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For teachers who want to understand Latin America

I created this list of works that I have read and consulted over the years to better understand Latin America. A few, like “A Line Becomes a River” by Francisco Cantu, are still on my to read list, and a few others are encyclopedic works that I consult rather than reading linearly (like the one about ancient Mexico). These would be great to read during pleasure reading in class. I have added the list to the CI-Reading website, which suggests great reading choices for language learners. Click here to see the list.

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A “Marvelous Thing” in French

I want to share a maravilla that French teacher Karen Olsen made for her AP class. The maravillas are an approach to presenting short videos and authentic resources in a way that is compatible with a CI classroom. These presentations are quick, cleverly scaffolded and use attractive media to prepare students to improve their reading skills. Each maravilla has four parts: (1) a captioned picture talk led by the teacher, (2) a captioned authentic video, (3) a reading and finally (4) a Write & Discuss activity. To see a full description which describes the role of the teacher in each of these four parts please check out this blog post in which I describe a maravilla in Spanish.

Download the Marvelous Thing that Karen created in French:

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7 Rules to Remain Sane and Avoid Perfection

It is reaffirming to lead workshops and be surrounded by teachers that demand as much from themselves as I do. Their passion pushes me forward. I have met many educators who are entirely consumed by this quest for perfection and occasionally wonder, however, if I should modify my message. These are educators that I worry about; I worry that they will burn out before developing the skills to be able to run a CI class effortlessly without pre-planning. I worry that, after putting so much effort into creating a compelling class experience, they are setting themselves up for a tremendous disappointment when their students yawn, tune out and dismiss the class as boring. I worry that they will conclude that CI is just too difficult, when I want to communicate the opposite: teaching with CI should be really, really easy.

There is no aspect of my life in which I demand perfection of myself; I am pretty forgiving of myself in the gym, the kitchen, perhaps a little too forgiving when it comes to cleaning the house, and although I often do not finish reading novels I still find a little time each day to read. That is, I do show up and do my part; over the years I have become a decent home cook, my BMI is ever so slowly going down and I am now well aware of my blood pressure, and even when I only read novels for 10 minutes a day my world is still so much bigger than that of a non-reader. Perfection is the enemy of progress; here are my seven guidelines that will lead you towards progress without fooling you into thinking that you need to be perfect. You need to be working on these skills in order to improve.

(1) Set clear expectations: “We are going to learn X language this year by hearing and creating stories together. First we are going to learn about each other, and once we are comfortable with that language we will begin creating our own stories. In order to acquire this language, you must listen and be able to understand. Listening is your main job, making sure you understand is my job.” Notice that there is NO talk about our stories being compelling, nothing about students loving class, nor changing their lives by exposing them to a wider world. I don’t mention that I want them to look forward to my class, nor do I tell them that they are my curriculum… we talk about what they want to talk about. All of that is true and as you get better at CI it will become part of the DNA of your classes, but while you are still learning some adolescents will use that information against you… and make you miserable. Instead set clear roles for student and teacher: you listen, I make sure you understand.

(2) Side conversations in L1 cannot ever be permitted. If there is a warm class community, your students’ natural urge will be to chat in English with each other. You must nip this in the bud at the beginning of the year and remain vigilant throughout the year to make sure that there are never side conversations. Stop class whenever there is a side conversation, regardless of how much you might be enjoying the story. Side conversations surge forth when the class conversation is getting good, so you must always be vigilant and never get entirely swept into the drama of the class conversation. Plan smooth transitions and bailout moves so that students do not fill “free moments” speaking in English. Repeat your expectations every single day. This might feel tough because it feels so darn unfriendly.

(3) Get to know your students and enjoy being with them. Learning more about your students’ lives while speaking the target language is always a good lesson. Tell them stories that you enjoy, speak the target language.

(4) Students who engage with their imaginations acquire language much quicker. Emotional connection with the content is a potent language acquisition accelerant. That is why I allow code-switching when we are first imagining the content. Let them get excited, and then take the stage and turn it into the target language. The balance you need to find is how much English is too much. I usually only allow a few words in English before I return to the target language, but sometimes I let a detail develop in English and then allow us to process that language during the Write and Discuss afterwards. One of the skills you will be sharpening is learning how to encourage creativity without sacrificing the target language. I say: honor that quest. You will learn by doing. Some classes you will speak way too much English, some classes you will want to apologize for cutting them off before they could express themselves. Eventually you will get it just right, with practice.

(5) Aim to keep students processing rather than keeping them entertained. You will be effective as long as students are processing the input. You will be more effective if students enjoy the class and the input feels easy to process, but adolescents are fickle. Rarely will a class be rolling with laughter. Even when a story connects, there will be students with boredom written across their foreheads. Give daily exit quizzes to make sure everyone is processing the input. Students do not have to contribute clever responses in order to acquire the target language; they only have to process. Rather than trying to be their favorite teacher, aim to be a teacher that they respect. True respect is not based in fear, but neither do you have to entertain them. Interacting with people that we respect is pleasurable enough.

(6) Stop planning units. All of that planning was the source of frustration when my students did not appreciate the work I did. Yet this idea that we need to plan a unit is an unnecessary relic from the days of thematic units. All we really need to do is talk with our students. Sharpen your skills at leading communicative activities that do not have to be pre-planned; student interviews, card talk, OWIs, class-created narratives following OWIs, movie talks and read-alouds. At most I follow a two day sequence of activities. If a student does not love the story, tomorrow will be a new day.

(7) I once realized that I had a coping strategy for dealing with those disastrous lessons that I had worked so hard to develop; often would show a movie for several days afterwards. That is, after putting my heart and soul into developing a unit that my kids did not find compelling, I wasted more class periods trying to please my students with an activity that provided even less CI. There is no time to burn for game days, projects, exam days, long activities whose main purpose consists of student output or otherwise classes that are not brimming full of rich CI. Instead keep on plugging away at the student interviews, card talks, OWIs, class-created narratives following OWIs, movie talks and read-alouds. Your skills will improve the more you do it, so don’t just try it once. Keep working at it.

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Workshops January to March 2019

This Spring I will be leading a series of two day workshops in cities across the USA. With two days of instruction we will have significant time for demonstrations and for participants to practice a variety of essential comprehensible input strategies.

On the first day we start with several easy to implement CI techniques. Participants see how easy it is to provide clear, interesting input for their students through student interviews, calendar talk and student surveys. We finish the morning with a demonstration of a One Word Image (OWI), an essential technique to unleash students’ creativity in their second language. Participants create their own OWI in small groups. In the afternoon we focus on Movie Talk skills. Mike demonstrates how to take a 45 second video clip and transform it into a full, 55 minute lesson plan… all without planning! Movie Talk is easy for beginners (both students and new CI teachers!); Mike demonstrates how to tweak Movie Talks to get the most language acquisition out of the experience. Participants get access to literally hundreds of videos suitable for movie talk. To round out the afternoon Mike outlines key steps to using an ongoing television show as an anchor text for your classes so that you will always have something to discuss. Classroom management is an important part of the CI classroom; observations are embedded in activities throughout the day and we end our first day of the workshop with a summary of management techniques and simple, powerful assessments that will take very little time to grade.

On the second day of the workshop we delve into using our OWIs to create easy stories with our students. The entire morning is dedicated to developing your skills so that you lead your students to create compelling stories. We discuss how to transform ho-hum stories into gripping narratives. Participants also learn how to scaffold the process to inspire students to develop stories around AP and IB themes. Teachers who must teach to a common department assessment will learn how to combine these powerful student-centered storytelling techniques with the specific vocabulary that your colleagues expect you to cover. During the afternoon of the second day we turn our attention towards developing our classroom libraries. For teachers of lesser-taught languages developing a reliable system to produce class-created texts is essential, but those texts are also useful for any teacher of beginners. I demonstrate many browsing activities, which are activities that get your students familiar with your class library and help them quickly locate the “home run” novel that will turn them on to a lifetime of reading… in their second language! We learn how to manage a pleasure reading program, including how you display your library might help or hurt your reading program. By the end of the second day of the workshop I present my “maravillas”, an activity that melds movie talk with embedded readings to present authentic cultural resources. I will show you the steps to make your own “maravillas” and give Spanish teachers access to 25 ready to go maravillas that I made for my own classes.

But our workshop does not end on the second day. I have collected resources, filmed myself at workshops demonstrating key techniques and arranged it all in a logical sequence to make learning each skill easy for the teacher new to this approach. All together there are 16 modules with more than 25 videos (over 266 minutes of footage and more being added). I call this “Mike’s Online Master Class”; all workshop participants get a one year subscription to the online workshop and a copy of the book that accompanies the workshop, “My Perfect Year”. You will find materials that you can use immediately in your classes while you learn the skills at your own pace. Best of all, unlike a live workshop, you will be able to return and watch the demonstration again until you can do it confidently in your own classroom. Still not clear? Send me an email with a request and I will address your question in the next video that I add to the course. I am committed to providing the very best online PD experience so I will continue adding to the workshop as I give live workshops across the country.

Workshops in San Antonio, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Philadelphia, Syracuse and Washington DC.

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Come see me at ACTFL!

If you are going to ACTFL this weekend, please stop by and say hi. I will be at the Teachers Discovery booth on Friday from 10am until 11am and again from 11:45am until 1pm. You will have a chance to get a sneak-peak at my new book, “Pleasure Reading in the World Language Classroom“, a book that I have been working on for about two years now. I will be back on Saturday from 10 to 11am and 3:30 to 4:30pm. Take a look at the table of contents below; I poured my heart into this book to help teachers effectively balance whole class reading activities with a strong free choice reading program (click on graphic below to enlarge the table of contents):

If you are not going to ACTFL you can still download the ebook! Available now!!! Prefer a paper version? Order the paper version from Teacher´s Discovery.

I am also teaming up with Chicago teacher Sean Lawler to participate in two roundtable conversations about teaching heritage learners. The round table sessions are small — limited to ten people — and are meant to stimulate conversations around our presentation. Our first conversation, on Friday from 2 to 2:45, is titled “Your Heritage Learners Think You Are Weird (Probably)”. Non-native speaking (NNS) teachers often struggle to establish their own authority with heritage learners. Typically non-native teachers are drawn into an unending struggle to validate their own language usage. While they struggle to establish their own expertise in the eyes of students, NNS teachers lose the opportunity to validate the experiences and family culture of their students. The presenters have found that explicitly discussing the concept of language community with students has changed this dynamic. Diversity of Spanish language dialects is not simply an expression of regionalism but also of ethnic and class boundaries. Students from vulnerable, migrant populations often speak “lower prestige” dialects. Students must first feel secure that their own language community is valued and respected; then they are better prepared to interact with “the other”. The session presents five ways to expand students’ language community while validating their home language dialects.

Our second roundtable session, on Saturday from 8am to 8:45, focuses on specific issues you might encounter when starting an independent reading program with heritage language learners. While reading is essential to develop heritage learners language skills, it is just as important to develop their identities as lifelong readers so that they continue to develop their skills long after the course has ended. An independent reading program is not simply about developing language skills; it develops lifelong habits. The presenters explore ten research-based characteristics of effective independent reading programs and contrast each one with common classroom practices that undermine reading programs.

Finally I will be working with the CI Posse at their booth in the exhibition hall, which is right next to the Señor Wooly booth. I will present in the CI Posse booth on a variety of browsing strategies so that your students explore your pleasure reading library rather than just grabbing the first book at hand! I will also demonstrate creating One Word Images and will host a sneak preview of my newest novel, Meche y las ballenas. See the CI Posse schedule for all of the other awesome things happening at the CI Posse booth throughout the day. Why bother going to the sessions, just hang out in the booth with us!!

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Complete instructions to making OWIs and the stories they inspire

What is an OWI?

The creation of a One Word Image (OWI) is a central technique to my approach to language acquisition. Invented by Ben Slavic, it is a creative activity that encourages students to enter a state of flow where they are so intent on the message being communicated that they seem to forget that they are listening to a second language. We become so immersed in the character and story being created that we acquire the language unconsciously, just as Krashen predicts. There are few classroom activities as beautiful as creating a OWI; I recommend taking the time to truly master this technique and cover your classroom walls with the student drawings created.

Before getting started you will need an easel with a large piece of butcher paper angled away from the class so that you can see the drawing being made but the class cannot. Choose two students to be the class artists: the first will use a thick black marker to create the outline of the character and add details. The second has a box of crayons to fill in all shapes with color. Instruct your artists to make the image large, but do not write any words with the exception of the character’s name.

Stand in front of the class and tell them in English that today you will all collaborate to create a character together. Before we get started, we need an inanimate object that we will fill with life with our own creativity. Students are often reluctant at first so I like to mention that I am partial to talking food, but it could be anything as long as it comes from our own minds. No Sponge Bob because that is a character that someone else imagined. Allow your students to make suggestions and wait until you hear an idea that you like, or alternatively point vaguely towards the back and say your own suggestion as if you were repeating something said by a quiet student. “Cucumber, yes! Our character is a cucumber!”

Turn to your artists and caution them not to start drawing. We need a few details before they can put pen to paper.

Continuing with our example, write the word “cucumber” on the board in the target language. If I were teaching Spanish I would write the word “pepino” and then say it aloud slowly, savoring the sound. I repeat the word, now with a lower voice, and three times again with a quick, high-pitched voice. The purpose is to allow students to hear the word many times.

Then I ask students to imagine our pepino. I physically lift the pepino off of the board, carrying it in two arms, and plop the imaginary character down onto the stool at the front of the room. Express amazement, putting hand to jowel and cry out, “¡Qué pepino!”

Ask students if they can see the pepino. Offer to reseat students in the back so that they can get a good view. The purpose of this theater, conducted in either English or the target language as long as they can understand, is to encourage students to suspend disbelief. We want them focusing on the theater, not the language. Language is acquired best when the message is the primary objective and the learner does not pause to consider how the language is put together.

Now, still looking at the empty stool where the imaginary pepino is resting, ask students in the target language whether the pepino is big (widely opening your arms and raising the volume of your voice but lowering the tone to as close to bass as you can) or is it small (clasping fingers together and speaking quietly but with a high pitch). ¿Es grande… o es pequeño? Let students respond in the language they feel comfortable. Spread your arms wider and ask, “¿es enorme? O… ”, tightly clasping fingers together as if trying to keep water from escaping, ask, “¿es microscópico?”.

Once your students have chosen (or if they are all shouting different answers try the ‘point to the back’ trick again, nod and say whichever response you wish as if you were agreeing with some imaginary student in the back of the room), then take a moment to review. Announce in an astounded voice, “clase, hay un pepino microscópico aquí”, gesturing towards the empty stool. Glance at your artists to make sure that they have not started drawing yet. Ask a question, “clase, ¿es pequeño?” “No, claro que no… ¡es microscópico!” Turn to a student who is not expressing marvel and ask, “Bobby, ¿ves…”, make the gesture of two fingers moving away from your eyes that you use to communicate the concept of see, “¿ves el pepino microscópico?”

If Bobby says no, move him to the front so he can get a better view. If he says yes, ask him what color the pepino is. ¿De qué color es el pepino? You don’t need a response, wait a beat and then turn to the whole class and repeat the question. If Bobby does not answer yes or no, go to the board and write the word ¿ves? followed by do you see? and ask the question again. If a student is being petulant and refusing to answer, smile and act as if you are assuming that he simply does not understand. You are there to make sure everyone understands. Thank him for helping you.

Once these first three characteristics are created the artists can now start illustrating. They should continue to listen and add details to the drawing as the class further develops the character. Keep the easel facing away from the class and observe to make sure they get it right. I tell my artists to work quickly; the entire process will not take more than twenty minutes. Check to make sure that the illustrations are school-appropriate.

I have a list of characteristics that is displayed in English beside my white board so that students can anticipate the questions that I will ask. This allows me to stay in the target language and encourages their creativity, as they glance at the list and come up with ideas while I am busy speaking slowly and deliberately. I often only cover 5 or 6 characteristics for each OWI, knowing that we are likely to add new details once we make a story with the character. Here is a list of possible characteristics: Is it sad or happy? Smart or dumb? Rich or poor? Kind or mean? How old is it? What is its name? What does it like to do? What does it dislike? What is its job? What is its superpower? You can download the posters in English to guide the OWIs by following this link.

After each characteristic, be sure to go back and review in the target language, rearranging the order of the characteristics. Ask questions. In Spanish I say, “wow, we have a very old, blue cucumber that likes to ski! Class, is he purple? No, he is not purple, he is blue. Blue and very old. How old is he? Is he 100 years old?” Keep them processing the language!

At this point the artists are busy drawing. I continue through the characteristics listed on the board, but I do not worry about covering all of them. We contemplate answers that are compelling, sometimes exploring the ideas in both the target language and English as we imagine the character and sometimes skipping over a characteristic that does not inspire us. I often plan on presenting the drawing on the following day, so I make sure that we finish this part of the process with fifteen minutes of class time to spare. In those fifteen minutes we complete a Write & Discuss description of the OWI on the board, which the students often copy into their notebooks (but not until after we have finished writing it on the board– the W&D requires student input so they cannot be distracted by taking notes). We will also have a five minute exit quiz based on the creation of the OWI.

On the back of the exit quiz, just before class ends, I wonder aloud in English: “Class, I wonder why oh why is this very old cucumber that likes to ski so very very sad. Why? Look at how sad he is, he is microscopic with his microscopic tears… why is he so sad?!” Each student quietly writes their idea on a small piece of paper or note card which they then pass in to me. Students write their ideas in English… it is very difficult to be creative in a language that they are learning. I want very creative answers to form a starting point for a story that we will create together during the next class session. If he is sad, then the responses will naturally lead to a problem that must be overcome in the story that follows. If he is happy, make an announcement at the beginning of the next class. Take away whatever makes the character happy so that he must fix that problem.

The following day I present the student-drawn illustration of the OWI. The moment of unveiling has a wonderful tension as we all marvel at the work of the student artists and, of course, I take the opportunity to fully review every characteristic of the OWI before explaining the problem that the character will face in the story. Here is a pro-tip: as you present, take the time to actually write some of the description in whatever white space is left. You will be hanging these posters on the walls of your classroom and the written language on the poster creates a text rich classroom. For that reason, write big with a thick black sharpie so that whatever is written can be seen from far away. An OWI with text that is hard to read from far away is not useful, so don’t try to copy the entire Write & Discuss onto the poster. Just add key points in full sentences (i.e. no single words either).

If there were no compelling problems suggested, we might not even create a story the next day. In that case I hang the picture on the wall and that character may, or may not, become the star of a future story. I may print out the text of the character description and hang it as a poster next to him so that the easy reading that we created together in the Write & Discuss can be referred to and read again in later classes.

If we do create a story, then the story created the next day is very short. There are four parts to each story and I ask a student to play the role of time keeper so that we spend no more than five minutes on each part. Occasionally I might add an extra minute to a part, but usually each story is finished in twenty minutes. The key is to express everything in comprehensible language. I use high frequency verb posters to be able to point and pause; once your students have mastered the 16 or so highest frequency verbs in the language, you will find that it is easy to express many concepts.

The first of four parts of the story simply establishes the scene by answering the following questions: Who is this story about? Where is he? Who is he with? These questions may well have been answered as we created the OWI; if not we quickly establish an answer. The last question may be useful if the OWI needs help solving his problem. Sometimes that extra character plays a role in the story, sometimes not. Often times this first part does not take the full five minutes because we have already established much of the information while creating the OWI. Be sure to ask many comprehension questions to be sure that your students are understanding you in the target language.

The second part simply answers the question, What is the problem? I express this in the target language. Often times there are things to explain. I make sure that students can process all of the language.

The third part is called “failure”; the OWI tries to solve his problem but fails. You have to work efficiently with students because you need to be able to express this in a complex sentence indicating both what he does and why it does not work. As we do this I am working in the target language. One student might suggest (in either Spanish or English, or often a mixture) that the OWI goes to Walmart to buy new shoes, so I turn to the class and ask (in Spanish), “does he go to Walmart? Does he find shoes there? Are the shoes new? Does he find shoes that he likes?”. Each step along the way I am writing on the board, speaking in Spanish but writing both languages so that students are following what I am saying. When they do not understand I point at the English, but I am trying to use easy, comprehensible language. Rather than teach new vocabulary, ideally I am getting them to process common words over and over in novel situations so that they eventually process the language at the speed of a native speaker.

The final part is called “solution”, where the OWI finally finds a solution to the problem. Once the entire 20 minute cycle is finished I write the entire story on the board in the form of a Write & Discuss activity (described elsewhere in this book). A completed story is typically anywhere from five to ten sentences long. Students copy these texts into their notebooks.

After several sessions making OWIs and their stories you might feel like the list of characteristics is constraining the creativity of the class. I recommend that you eventually substitute the question “Is he happy or sad?” with one of the pairs of words listed at the end of this article. Use only one pair of words per OWI and when it is time to create a problem, rather than asking why the OWI is happy or sad, simply ask how being (characteristic) becomes a problem for the character. For example, if the class decides that their yellow helmet is courageous, ask them how being courageous gets the yellow helmet into trouble. As always, allow them to do this work in English. Let their imaginations fly and report back to you on a note card that you will read after class. As you read their suggestions, feel free to combine ideas to create the most interesting problem that you can express in the target language.

Another way to encourage complexity is to simply project either the entire set of AP themes against the white board and ask students to contemplate these themes just before they turn in small groups and develop a problem (in English), or project only one subset of the themes for students to contemplate. This is like priming the pump; we have had wonderful stories that incorporate themes based on gender identity, environmental issues and such after students took a few minutes to consider the possible problems their OWIs could face in the real world.

When introducing new vocabulary, the intention is not to actually “teach” the new words. Instead we are seeking to encourage the creativity of students. Simply write the words with translations on the board, point and pause when you use them and make no show of trying to get students to memorize the words. Focus on the consequences of the characteristics for the characters, using high-frequency words while developing interesting problems and solutions.

This list was inspired from a list of personal qualities not measured by tests

Courageous – Timid
Resilient – Fragile, low self-esteem
Enthusiastic – Downer
Creative – Dull
Persistent – Gives up quickly
Humble – Self-aggrandizing
Spontaneous – Cautious
Hard-working – Lazy
Motivated – Passive, lethargic
Leader – Follower
Amusing – Gloomy
Curious – Uninterested
Empathetic – Indifferent, uncaring
Reliable – Irresponsible
Trustworthy – Untrustworthy


Valiente – Cobarde
Resistente – Frágil, tiene la autoestima baja
Entusiasta – Negativa, aguafiestas
Creativo – Aburrido
Persistente – Se da por vencido fácilmente
Humilde – Arrogante, engreído
Espontáneo – Cauteloso
Trabajador – Flojo
Motivado – Pasivo, letárgico
Líder – Seguidor
Divertido – Pesimista, sombrío
Interesado – Desinteresado
Empático – Indiferente, insensible
Responsable – Irresponsable
Confiable – que no es de fiar

French (Careful! This list was made by a non-French Teacher!!!)

Courageux – Timide
Résistant – Fragile, manque de confiance en soi
Enthousiaste – Rabat-joie
Créatif – Ennuyeux
Tenace –
Humble – Arrogant
Spontané – Prudent
Travailleur – Paresseux
Motivé – Passif, léthargique
Meneur – Adepte
Drôle – Sombre
Curieux – Indifférent
Empathique – Sans cœur
Fiable – Irresponsable

Finally here is a video of me creating a OWI in a workshop in Savannah, Georgia:

And here is a 3 minute video of the big reveal of the artwork “the next day”:
(soon to be added)

The text of this blog post comes from my new book “Pleasure Reading in the World Language Classroom: Finding a Balance Between Whole Class Reading and Independent Pleasure Reading”, soon available through Teachers Discovery. The video comes from my “Workshop Online”, available on my website.

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When you cannot find a workshop near you…

It is training, not textbooks nor materials, but skilled professional development that is absolutely the most important variable that determines the success of a teacher new to comprehensible input methods.

I have a solution for teachers who want to learn to teach using highly-effective comprehensible input methods but cannot take time away from the classroom nor travel to a workshop to get the professional development that they need. I have collected resources, filmed myself at workshops demonstrating key techniques and arranged it all in a logical sequence to make learning each skill easy for the teacher new to this approach. All together there are 16 modules with more than 25 videos (over 266 minutes of footage and more being added). I call this “Mike’s Online Master Class”; when you register you immediately get a download of my book, “My Perfect Year”, access to the first 25 maravillas in Spanish and a one year subscription to the online workshop. You will find materials that you can use immediately in your classes while you learn the skills at your own pace. Best of all, unlike a live workshop, you will be able to return and watch the demonstration again until you can do it confidently in your own classroom. Still not clear? Send me an email with a request and I will address your question in the next video I add to the course. I am committed to providing the very best online PD experience so I will continue adding to the workshop as I give live workshops across the country. Browse the course index:

Follow this link to register.

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Looking for a place to hold a workshop

Have you ever thought of hosting a workshop? It is easy — all you have to do is provide a classroom where we can meet. I post it on my website and if we can attract enough people to pay for my airfare & hotel, you get a free workshop! My workshops are training for the entire year; it includes demos of key CI techniques, a copy of my book “My Perfect Year” for all participants, and a year subscription to my “Online Workshop” with 15 modules of videos and in-depth descriptions. I have some time available in January and March, two months when teachers are typically eager for a boost. Please comment on this post if you have a classroom available and I will be in contact.


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When a former student asks for advice about how to learn a third language

I get contacted often enough by former students seeking advice about how to continue their language journey. However, I absolutely love it when a student contacts me with vague memories of how it started with Spanish and wondering, “how do I repeat that process with a third language?

First let me emphasize what you should not do: no conjugation charts, no textbooks with grammar explanations, no thematic vocabulary lists and no teachers who want to teach you through these “common sense but flat out wrong” approaches. If you were my student before 2013, let me apologize to you. I was collecting the data I needed to reject those ineffective methods, and some of you I tortured exquisitely with the mistaken belief that I just had to perfect my approach to conjugation exercises. I was so wrong.

There is one crucial ingredient: listening and understanding what you hear in the target language. If it is compelling to you, then even better. Able to read and understand? Much, much better.

Notice exactly what I am saying: you do not have to speak or write in order to learn to speak or write. In fact, you should not speak until the words just plop right out of your mouth, until you have heard them so many times that they are effortlessly falling out of your mouth. Until then, concentrate your time on getting more and more comprehensible listening & reading.

Think about what was successful in our classes: most likely you remember El Internado. Do you remember all of the annoying times I stopped the video and repeated what was being said, summarized it, wrote it on the board, printed it up so that you could read it again and again? Yeah, I was learning to be a decent language teacher. Hopefully you remember some laughter. That also was by design, because I was coming to understand that anxiety about learning and speaking a language is the main thing that prevents students from soaking in the language. Laughter and no anxiety means better acquisition.

If you were my student around 2015 then you might remember that I put great effort into quieting my students, providing some space for student speaking but often encouraging silence. I still wanted a compelling class, but I realized that students had to hear and process everything. That is when I became convinced that student output (writing and speaking) is irrelevant to first learning a language. I realized that the more time beginning students dedicate to listening and reading, the better the final outcome three or four years later.

Not only are my students living proof of the power of this method, but there are many others who have adopted this approach. Have doubts? Take a look at a newspaper article written by Stephen Krashen, the linguist who inspires language teachers like me:

Once you know how to acquire a language, the hard part is getting someone to speak to you in an extremely comprehensible and compelling manner. Yeah, a good language teacher is worth their weight in gold. Chances are you will need to get that conversation from people who are not exactly trained to help you acquire the language. Here is some concrete advice about how to approach your third language. This is based not only on my classroom experience, but also on my own experiences acquiring my fifth language, Japanese.

You need to understand whatever language you come across, or it does not help you acquire the language. That sounds like an impossible condition, but it is not. Watch this classic video of Stephen Krashen explaining how to acquire German with “comprehensible input”: (in fact, watch the full video to understand how to acquire a language).

When learning a new language I rely on tutors that I find on the internet. The best website that I have found for finding cheap and reliable tutors is where I pay around $10 for an hour of conversation. I always choose a “community tutor” rather than a trained language teacher. Sadly, most trained language teachers are not trained in language acquisition. Of course it’s even better if you can find someone interested in a language exchange: a native speaker partner who will speak the language you want to learn while you speak the language that he or she wants to learn. An ideal activity for language exchange is a method called “Cross talk” where you speak your native language and the tutor speaks their native language. I do this with tutors who understand English, although at a certain point with a portable white board and a little art, anything can be explained. To understand this method, take a look at this explanation by Pablo Román:

By the way, I always record my tutoring sessions so that I can rewatch them later.

I have found that comprehensible reading is crucial because I can slow it down to my pace. With my tutors I always end with a summary session in which they create a paragraph long text summarizing what we spoke about. That written summary is what I read afterwards.

Once I have developed enough reading skills to be able to read simple texts, I would look for language learner literature. Not much available in Japanese, but in other languages there are some books out there. Check out this website:

Okay, now you are beginning to get a sense of how to acquire another language… by living it. Now I want to leave you with a video made by Jeff Brown, a polyglot that loves to acquire languages. He documented how he progressed in Arabic over the course of a year. Take notes from this guy!

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Introducing Las Maravillas: small doses of target language culture for a student-centered classroom

Today I am finally releasing something that teachers who attend my workshops have been raving about: Las maravillas. A maravilla in Spanish is “a marvelous thing”; these activities present fascinating people, places and cultural customs in a truly comprehensible format. I think that it is so important that I have added below a short excerpt from my new book about reading (in publication by Teacher’s Discovery, to be released at ACTFL in November 2018) that describes exactly how to make your own maravillas. I also offer access to my library of 25 pre-made maravillas.

An example of a Maravilla

A maravilla consists of four parts which I embed into a power point. The most difficult part of creating a maravilla is the initial research. This is not always easy, but one reliable source is a company called Great Big Story which publishes short videos on YouTube. They have a Spanish channel called Great Big Historias: This example maravilla will use a video created by Great Big Historias called “Sumérgete en este museo debajo de las olas”, which you can view by following this link on the internet:

First I take a screen shot of one frame from the video so that I can talk about the subject in the target language before actually playing the video. This technique is called a “Picture Talk”. It is an important previewing technique because, unlike a video, we move at the pace of the students. Students develop confidence that they understand the subject. Without the Picture Talk students tend to feel overwhelmed and shut down when faced with an authentic video. I also add a caption to the photo so that I can introduce a crucial word or two that students will need in order to understand our discussion that follows. In this case I take a screenshot 4 seconds into the video of the sculpture that is submerged underwater. When presenting the photo, I ask questions and make observations in simple, comprehensible language. In Spanish I say, “look, there is a man. Is that a man? No, that is not a man, that is a sculpture of a man, not a real man. But look, it is really blue. Very, very blue. Is it a beautiful day, perhaps? Perhaps, but that color blue is not the air. It is water. The sculpture is under the water. This sculpture is part of a museum. The museum is all under water. The museum is in Mexico, under water near Cancun. People go (now pointing at the caption) to Cancun in order to scuba dive and see the underwater museum. Amazing!” The caption written in Spanish below the photo is in bold so that students can see the words that are new to them. That introduction is meant to be very comprehensible. In fact that would be entirely accessible to my level 1 students with the exception of only a few words, which I write on the board.

Second, after the Picture Talk, I play the video (which is much less comprehensible). To be honest, the videos on their own are often quite incomprehensible. In my own classes I add captions using a video processing software such as Movie Maker, a free download from Microsoft. However you really should not expect your students to understand the video. Playing the video has another purpose. We know that struggling readers often do not create vivid images in their minds while reading. The purpose of both the video and the picture talk is to prompt students to form pictures in their minds that will help them comprehend the whole class reading that follows. I have used this strategy (displaying a vivid image, discussing it and then taking it away, followed by a reading that evokes that image) as a way to teach struggling readers to employ this particular reading strategy. For that reason I try not to choose a video that lasts longer than three or four minutes; it is like watching a movie over the shoulder of someone sitting near you with headphones. We have all experienced being trapped in a plane and following a movie while not hearing the dialogue. Yet clearly when language is absent (or so incomprehensible that it is just a blur), that does not helping us acquire more language. The images are simply preparation so that students will be primed to understand the reading that follows.

The third part, then, is a simplified reading summarizing the video and written slightly above the independent reading abilities of the students. What follows is an example of a simplified reading that I might have written for one of my classes. The complexity of the text, of course, depends upon what I have determined to be just slightly above the abilities of my students. If I make a mistake and provide a text that is too difficult, I translate difficult parts and use that language in comprehension questions so that students quickly become familiarized with it:

Hay más de quinientos esculturas sumergidas en las aguas de la costa de Cancún, México. La zona disfruta de más de 800,000 visitantes cada año, así que el impacto del ser humano es enorme. El parque marino es una de las atracciones de buceo más populares del mundo. Por eso hacen las esculturas para que protejan la vida marina. Quieren que haya más arrecifes de coral en el futuro, lo que atraería aún más turistas.

For my students this text may be a stretch without context and teacher support. I would comfortably include it in an activity for my level three students, but I might simplify it further before presenting the activity if I were to plan this for my level 1 students:

Hay muchas esculturas en el océano cerca de Cancún, México. También hay muchos turistas que visitan a Cancún. A los turistas les gusta nadar entre las esculturas debajo del agua. Los artistas mexicanos hacen las esculturas para que protejan los animales del océano. Quieren que haya más animales en el futuro… y más turistas también.

The reading should feel easy to students, but we know that had it been assigned entirely devoid of context it might feel much more difficult to students. Contextualized first by the Picture Talk and then by the video, this reading appears quite simple. I read the text aloud, slowly to the class, and then pause for questions about specific words. After addressing student questions, students then chorally respond to a variety of comprehension questions that I ask based on the reading. Finally we do a choral translation of the same reading, students translating each word as I point at it. Leading an effective choral translation is a worthy skill to hone. The teacher must demand that students say each word in unison, without skipping ahead to read the whole phrase and thus create a loud, unintelligible rumble. This is important because the translation is not for the purpose of assessment, not even informal assessment. The purpose of a choral translation is to allow timid students to entirely understand the reading. The students themselves must be able to hear every word.

The fourth part of a maravilla consists of a Write & Discuss activity used to elicit a student summary of the text after we have reviewed it. I pull up a blank screen and start with the phrase “hay” (there is) in the target language. I ask students to add a word, either in English or Spanish (clearly I prefer Spanish), and together we build a summary. I add transition words so that the sentences are not short and choppy, and I correct grammar, but I do not suggest content. Through this class summary, I understand what students truly took away from the activity.

After completing the summary (and not before, to encourage student engagement) students copy the text of the Write & Discuss and there is an announced content quiz at the end of the week. Students are allowed to reread their notes right before the quiz. The content of the quiz is based ONLY on the W & D. Sometimes there are 2-3 maravillas covered on that one quiz. The reason I do this is twofold: first, to encourage students to COME TO CLASS. If they just get notes from a classmate, the information does not sink in the same way as it does when they live the experience. Second, students who otherwise complain that “we do nothing” in class feel like the maravillas add rigor to the class because it is content that they “have to know”. Therefore this assessment helps build a class culture of coming to class and engaging. Everyone who does that gets a fine grade.

The entire four step sequence is completed within fifteen to twenty minutes. I want to impress students with some aspect of the target language culture, and then quickly retreat back into an imaginative, student-centered curriculum. These short, interesting texts are the main vehicle through which I introduce students to new grammar, complex sentence structure and readings that stretch their language abilities. The majority of their reading in class, however, is spent on easier reading that will develop rapid fluency. For a high school teacher who sees students every day for 55 minute sessions, I think that presenting one or two per week is sufficient.

While you can use these instructions to create your own maravillas, I also offer access to my library of 25 pre-made maravillas.

— text excerpted from “Pleasure Reading in the World Language Classroom: Build a Successful Program and Strike a Balance Between Whole-Class Texts and Free Choice Reading” by Mike Peto, soon to be distributed by Teacher’s Discovery.

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Harnessing a Running Horse: An Essential Classroom Management Tool

If you are talking about really interesting things in your class there will be times when the conversation bubbles over and students spontaneously start chatting with each other. Here is one technique that I caught on footage from a recent workshop that not only gets you to regain control of your class in 20 seconds, but it also maintains a pleasurable atmosphere in class without yelling or unpleasant reminders about rules. I call the technique “harnessing a running horse”:

If you want more, I still have a few workshops scheduled for Autumn 2018.

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What do I do with the Write & Discuss after we are done?

So, you talk in comprehensible language throughout your class period and end each day with a Write & Discuss activity to cement all that oral language into your students brains. So, what do you do with the written summary once you finish class? Just erase the board? NO! Watch this, it will change your teaching life!!:)

Click here to download a simple cartoon template, even better than the old one that I posted last year on my website.

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Plan Browsing Strategies if you want Students to Browse your Class Library

For the past several years I have entirely abandoned the whole class novel in favor of student choice. The awkward part of teaching a whole class novel — the thud midway through the novel when student interest plummets but I have to keep the show running — that has thankfully disappeared from my teaching life. My students are actually reading more and they are happier with their reading.

And yet…

Running an effective pleasure reading program requires much more from the teacher than providing good books and quiet time for students to read. Start with unpacking the idea of “a good book”; in this context the book must be both highly interesting to the student and highly comprehensible. I have never had enough books to fully satisfy these two requirements… for language learners I don’t think there are enough books out there to satisfy these two requirements. That is why I am leading the charge to get more teachers to write novels with their classes. But even if I did have “enough” books, I would still need to understand my students well-enough to be able to recommend the right book to the right student. I have close to forty students in each class, and I struggle to remember some students’ names well into September. October. Okay, for a select few I am still blanking on a name in January. My point is that “know your students” is another phrase carelessly thrown around by reading gurus that, when unpacked, is easier said than done. I break a sweat trying to connect students with a “good-enough book” from my library.

A pleasure reading program demands endless tinkering, but there are three things you absolutely must pay attention to if you want it to be successful. First of all, the books have to be highly comprehensible. Not kind of comprehensible. Not even pretty much comprehensible. Highly comprehensible. Take a look at my 4 minute video about how to develop a library with class-created texts. Doing this during the last five minutes of class, every day, will lead to hundreds of low-low level readings for second semester. In level one I unveil the pleasure reading library in January (although I have been talking about the books since the beginning of the first semester). Many students may be able to make the leap to professionally published novels, but I still need this basic foundation of a library to serve as a landing mat for the children who tumble off those books and need an extremely, extremely comprehensible read. To be successful, the library must have texts for the lowest level readers.

Second, take a hint from a good librarian and make sure your class library is browsable. Place your easiest novels in a location that is easy to reach for students streaming into the class. I have tables pushed against the walls on three sides of the room with various types of books so that when students do browse, they are not crowded into making a quick choice by the pushing and shoving of their classmates. Try to have as many covers facing up as possible, and occasionally rotate in the books that are stuck on book shelves. Keep collections together by theme, not reading level; I have all of my animal encyclopedias together on the table near the window, all of the manga and graphic novels together on the table against the back wall. Advertise books recently purchased or the subject of book talks by placing them up front with the book that the teacher is reading. Once you get enough, start stapling the class-created texts together in packets of 5-10, provide a book cover and number the collections so students remember which ones they have already read.

Third, expand your repertoire of browsing strategies.

A browsing strategy is any activity that gets your students more familiar with the books in your library. Imagine a class milling about in front of piles of books, perhaps casually gazing at a few book covers while you encourage them to “browse”: that is NOT what I am talking about! Book talks, Readers Theater, and CALP lessons related to a book in your library are much more effective ways to get students interested in what you have to offer. Heck, when a student interview reminds me of a book in my library I take the opportunity to advertise that book. So let’s take a look at some of these browsing strategies.

Book talks: A great way to complete a reading session. Usually after 5 or 10 minutes of silent reading I will ask students to talk about their books in small groups for 60 seconds. They speak in their first language. The idea is to spread knowledge about the books. After a minute they pass their books to the class librarians, who return the books. While the librarians are doing their job, I present a book in very comprehensible Spanish. Either I talk in general terms about what the book is about or I present one vivid scene, but this is often done by memory rather than reading aloud. I will use the whiteboard to illustrate what I am saying. The key is to talk about a book so that any student who is interested can follow up during independent reading sessions.

Reader’s Theater: This technique is often used when teaching a whole class novel, but there is no reason not to use it as a way to advertise a book. It requires a little bit of planning, but it is worth it. Before class I read a scene from a book with potential for a lot of dialogue and a lot of dramatic tension. Then I will rewrite the scene as a dialogue only script. This often involves me adding lines, even adding lines for characters who do not have dialogue in the book in order to flesh out how each character is feeling. I add stage instructions in English to help clarify what I want my actors to do. Print out a copy for each actor. When we start, I set the scene in Spanish, using the board to draw pictures. The fun part of Reader’s Theater, however, is coaching your student-actors to perform the scene in a variety of ways. Ask a character to repeat a line in several different ways. After performing an action, ask students to do it again in slow motion. End by recording the scene on video so that later in the semester you can play it again. Always have a copy of the book front and center so that students associate the book with the theater; the recorded version should present the book as a book commercial. Once again, the purpose of the activity is to give students a taste of the book so that, if interested, they can follow up during independent reading session.

CALP lessons: CALP lessons carefully introduce academic language, but they can be a great hook too. In my opinion some teachers and researchers misunderstand how to apply CALP to second language classrooms. Tina Hargaden’s version of CALP is really just introducing high-interest content to learners, devoid of burdensome follow-up activities. For example, when I preview my novel Superburguesas I use an info-graphic that I found on the internet about how infections are spread when people do not regularly wash their hands. Before class I project the image against a large piece of white butcher paper and I trace it quickly with light pencil. The pleasure is in revealing the drawing using marker in class: while we discuss hand washing in Spanish, I trace over the illustration of the hand. Then I overemphasize the creepiness of the comical illustrations of common pathogens found on unwashed hands, especially noting the ones that cause diarrhea and other unpleasant symptoms. Bringing the conversation back to the book, I describe the character who does not wash his hands when he works at a fast-food hamburger restaurant. Slowly revealing the info-graphic while discussing it in easy, comprehensible language adds great dramatic tension to the activity.

Impromptu book advertisements: At the very beginning part of the year when a student interview reveals that someone in my class likes baseball, you had better believe that I will be backing up towards the table with my sports books simply to hold up the books that I have about baseball players. However, impromptu book advertisements are easy to include in your classes in an organic way, as long as you are thinking about the books that you have. Before class stroll around your library and consider the themes so that you connect students with books. A student who expresses that the environment is important to her, or even professes enjoying hiking might like Juliana, a fictional novel about a real cave complex in Spain that houses hundreds of bats. She may not find the novel if you do not point the way. Heritage learners of Spanish often enjoy novels set in the country where there family members are from. A student interested in fashion might enjoy El último viaje by A.C. Quintero. An advanced student who is an avid cyclist will surely enjoy El cóndor de los Andes by Adriana Ramirez. An intermediate student who talks about her sister may not bother to browse your collection of graphic novels, but may be thrilled when you place on the front whiteboard a copy of Hermanas by Raina Telgemeier.

A great time to introduce a new book is when the theme comes up organically, during a student interview.

If you help your students learn to browse your library, they are much more likely to hit upon a book that they really like. That is what will turn them into lifelong readers.

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Let me be your guide as you write & publish a CI novel with your classes

Are you a CI teacher who wants to write a comprehensible novel with your classes? This year-long course (August to March) combines video and monthly, small group google hangout meetings to guide you along a class-tested process to creating compelling, level-appropriate novels. I wrote my novel Superburguesas with my level 1 classes. Imagine creating a novel with true beginners in Autumn and being able to hand each student a finished, published novel by Spring!

My course guides you month by month through the process, from getting your students to supply the first seed of a great idea, working with them in the target language as they acquire language while developing a plot line, rewriting and recognizing themes, through to getting the most compelling illustrations as well as the intricacies of publishing and even marketing your novel. I provide three different approaches to novel writing: one well-suited for middle school students (but still great for high school), one ideal for a teacher who is already comfortable with TPRS-style “storyasking”, and another approach designed to highlight target culture and historical aspects while still encouraging students to take ownership of the narrative.

If you saw my presentation during the Comprehensible Online Conference, then you will have seen the starting point for this course. I propose to walk this path with you, helping to brainstorm and develop your novel throughout the year as I write my own. Each month I will upload a short video delving into detail about the month’s work and demonstrating how I solve the problems that arise in my own work. Then we will schedule small group meetings via Google Hangouts so that you have the opportunity to discuss the progress you are making on your novel each month.

In order to assure my sanity, the monthly google hangout group is only open to the first ten teachers (there are still spaces available). Additional teachers will be able to sign up to watch the monthly videos and follow the process outlined in the hour-long instructional video, but the google hangout sessions will be limited to the original 10. If one of the original 10 drops out, I will offer that space. Please inform me upon signing up if you would rather be a “passive” member of the writers group so that someone else can participate in the google hangout sessions.

Why am I doing this? It is not for the money… the cost to join this group hardly makes a dent in the fees I pay for the various internet services I use to maintain this blog. Since 2015 I have been dedicated to helping teachers become authors because my students need a greater diversity of voices in our classroom library. Not just diversity in terms of race, class, gender or life experience of the author, but also a diversity of genres. We do not have any low-level CI sci-fi books, or horror, or even much in terms of fantasy or historical fiction. Publishers tend to publish books that they believe will appeal broadly, neglecting quirky niche genres. However, it is the quirky niche genres that inspire some students to become strong readers. With this group, I intend to help bring at least 10 quality books to publication by next Spring.

Follow this link to sign up.

With purchase you will receive a download link for a word.doc that contains a link and your password to enter the group homepage. Please log in this summer to watch the hour long video overview of the writing process.

Quotes are from teachers who saw the video presentation at the Comprehensible Online Conference in April, 2018.

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Hey Seattle! July 6 workshop with discount…

If you are considering attending the workshop in Seattle on July 6th, please note that there is a nearly 20% discount if your school does not reimburse you. Just type in the coupon code noschoolsupport when checking out and you will receive a $14 discount!

Follow this link to check out the details about the workshop.

“I’m loving the One-word Image lessons with my students. It was great being in your workshop in Japan last month, and I’m happy to have made some pretty great changes in my classroom.” – Paul

“Hi Mike, I just wanted to let you know that the workshop that you did with my department has made an impact. One of my colleagues has continued with the OWIs and her students love them. She also did a Movie Talk lesson and then expanded off that with different versions based on the Movie Talk. She is excited because she sees how the students are acquiring the language.” – Cameron

“I was at your workshop in Brattleboro. It was awesome!” – Carmela

“I want to take this opportunity to share how well FVR has been going in my class. That chat I had with you when you were presenting at my school (in Oregon) was the last piece I needed to have direction and take the leap. At first it felt like I wasn’t ‘working’ – I mostly sit at my desk reading a book that I want to read anyway!! But when after a few weeks I asked my students for feedback (via an online survey), the feedback was overwhelming positive. They (especially the introverts) enjoy having time to go at their own pace, to sit in silence, to relax, and many said they like seeing how the sentences work, figuring out words, learning words they don’t hear in class, etc. Thanks again!” – Stephanie

“As a newbie to CI, I need all the help I can get! Thanks for all the ideas and inspiration in Vermont last month. I wish I could keep it all “fresh,” but hopefully your book and the notes will guide me along.” – Barbara

“You are amazing! Thanks for putting new sparks on the fire for me and my students.” – Sharon

“The Maravillas will be an awesome change of pace this last few months of school.” – Viviana

“You are AMAZING! Your maravillas are so wonderful. I never thought of the write and discuss. Mil gracias por todo!” – Laura

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Common assessments, common experiences, and the messy path of acquisition

Teacher: Hi Mike. I’ve read all your stuff but one thing that I am hearing from the more resistant-to-CI teachers is: “How do we address common assessments with this approach? How do we ensure we are on the “same page”?” I realize that until we can all discuss bigger things with answers grounded in SLA research, these questions are futile as they all need to understand the paradigm shift– moving beyond units, etc. Even so, I do notice that you don’t mention common assessments in your “My Perfect Year” book where you discuss this topic. Could you speak to that briefly? When you worked with other teachers in your dept’s journey to CI, did you have any common “end points”?

Mike’s response: Sometimes traditional teachers are unwilling to abandon common assessments because, although they may never articulate it this way, they do not trust that their colleagues will “cover what needs to be covered”. Good for you that you were able to abandon vocab & grammar sections on the common assessments! You have won the nit-picky “let’s use assessments to compare teachers” fight… I have never seen that approach successfully build a department, it only tears people down.

So first the truth: I don’t mention common assessments because we stopped using them altogether. I imagine that your colleagues won’t want to hear that, but there is a wide if silent agreement among many national presenters who have told me privately about their own practice, even when they present on assessment methods. Over and over again, experts suggest less formal assessments, less time giving those assessments, and more time for a variety of CI activities. Assessment is necessary for the teacher to understand their own impact and some assessments help students appreciate what they do in class as they recognize the progress that they have made. Informal assessment is integrated into the meat of every activity we do. I also often use quick, formative assessments such as exit quizzes to verify that specific lessons were comprehensible to the less vocal students (such as after story-listening). But informal and formative assessments are quite different from the big common assessments that many departments develop.

Common assessments, on the other hand, are almost always summative with one of three less-than-useful intentions. They want assessments that will (1) organize students by proficiency level or some other metric of language ability, (2) identify the “strong” teachers so that “weak” teachers can learn from them, and/or (3) inform students of where they are on their path to proficiency in the belief that that helps them chart out strategies to continue onward. This last point implies some conscious awareness of their language acquisition which might be useful for a self-study student who is going into deep immersion over the summer (I have seen it!), but that does not seem very relevant to most high school students. The other, more troublesome take away could be that students are supposed to consciously keep track of their language learning, stuff like “hey you need to remember not to conjugate verbs after prepositions unless…”, that kind of feedback could be very harmful. See a researcher named John Truscott on this point.

In my experience, the second option never works in practice (and when I look at it on paper, a chill runs through my bones). You might be tempted to develop data comparing your CI students with their students, thus encouraging colleagues to go pure CI once they see how well your students perform. I wish humans were so rational. Instead most of us would be humiliated and become entrenched in our thinking when faced with “data”, and we find ways to disprove it or interpret differently. Changing the culture of the department requires a fine dance to prevent anyone from digging in.

The best option in that case is to train your entire staff on different ways to “dipstick” or get informal assessments in the moment so that teachers recognize the exact moment when students cannot understand what is being said, or better yet (following Krashen), when the “illusion of comprehensibility” has been broken and students begin to feel confused. A less-than-effective colleague who develops the tools to better read his/her students will then develop skills to self-assess his/her delivery of CI. Change from within is an approach that takes years and requires a growth mindset from the teacher, but is there really any other way?

The other reason to use common assessments, to organize a student population to better provide instruction, I think is deeply flawed, but there is less agreement among various presenters on this point. I believe that kids should not be penalized for how their brains work. They all need rich CI, even those who do not output quickly or accurately. Some educators would rather divide the student population so that the teacher can provide input that is roughly at the same level. I believe that all classes are multi-level classes, and that separating students creates an unequal and unnecessary social reality that inevitably confirms to many students that “they are not smart”. Students succeed most when they feel successful.

Some educators might argue that “the community is paying me” to assign accurate grades… which is ridiculous. I am being paid to support the development of all of my students. I am not being paid to give a grade that will allow colleges to determine whether or not to accept my student… I am not a gate keeper of any kind. I do not issue grades to determine whether students should move on (the answer is always yes unless they simply did not come to class, the only reason my students would earn less than a B). Some of my assessments, the ones that give me a critical perspective of my students true abilities, are never reported as grades. They are for me, to determine how to push forward and determine exactly what “i + 1” is for my students. Your colleagues who expect common assessments will probably never accept this argument, but I do not think that a common assessment that spits back a number or letter grade associated with each student is valuable.

So here is a brief answer if you HAVE to have common assessments; I would try to get teachers to collect data that could improve their own teaching. (1) Quick writes without any prompt or lesson to serve as a template… just a 5 minute quick write at the BEGINNING of class to get a real sense of the language in students head, (2) another quick write after an activity that introduces new vocab or content (OWI for lower level classes, one of my Maravillas for levels 2 and above). The purpose of the second quick write is to understand whether the teacher is providing enough repetition and is going slow enough to maximize acquisition. Ideally the teacher will recognize that variations in the way the lesson is presented to different classes impact acquisition & will seek to identify those variations. The big lesson for each teacher to learn via quick writes is how to provide grammatically-rich but vocab-limited input in class. In the case of OWIs, the questions that guide the creation of an OWI limit the possible vocab used so that, over time, students hear a lot of unpredictable structures within a very predictable format. (3) Teacher reads aloud a short EASY EASY reading, students listen with no visual text. After each paragraph teacher asks comprehension questions that can be answered in one word (concrete questions, not open-ended questions). The purpose is for teachers to become aware of an optimal reading speed when reading aloud to class. Be careful not to de-motivate students by reading for too long, too fast or otherwise being incomprehensible. Encourage teachers to use a text that is new but ridiculously easy. The idea is not to find the students “drowning point”, but rather to make teachers better at speaking clearly and slowly. (4) However you put this together, do not administer the entire common assessment on the same day. Have the first five minute quick-write on Monday, the second quick write on Tuesday (again, 5 minutes), the reading comprehension on Wednesday. If you have small enough classes you could have upper levels record a short conversation on Thursday. The assessment should not be announced as such to students: you do not want students to overthink the output, you don’t want to invoke the monitor. Just a normal day, as far as they are concerned. No need to ever “tell them the results” either, since the data is all to improve teaching.

You might have noticed that I have avoided addressing the “creating a common experience” thread while discussing assessment. A common experience is often understood as common content, whereas you want to develop common skill sets. Avoid any common assessment that would guide teachers to create a day to day “common experience” that leads them to teach to a test. Any test for which students can explicitly be prepared would not be a valid assessment of language ability. The solution my department adopted was to stress the Sweet 16 verbs throughout the 4 year curriculum. Please click here to read an essay where I flesh out what a common experience looks like in my department. In short, when any of my teachers get students at the beginning of the year, we do not have a list of target structures in our minds that we assume our students have acquired. We do not get angry if our level 3 kids do not understand X phrase; instead we are trained to start the conversation assuming nothing and paying close attention to their eyes. At all levels, as we think about how to phrase our language so that it will be comprehensible, we all return to the Sweet 16 verbs and posters. It is a common experience in all classes, even though I spend a week talking about whales and my colleague spends weeks talking about football (what would you expect from a football coach!).

I have to say, letting go of the concrete “scope and sequence” type goals and instead stressing the Sweet 16 verbs has made my department much happier and functional. Teachers put more effort into their classes now that they feel successful and part of a successful team. Feeling like you are letting your colleagues down because you cannot get that list of prepositional phrases into your students heads is not good for the teacher, their colleagues, or their students.

I hope some of these ideas are useful. I am sure you will need to re-frame the assessment ideas if you present them to your colleagues (especially if they are keen to give students grades and not so keen to self-evaluate). Nonetheless I think these ideas could lead to fruitful self-reflection that might move the process along.

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Published! The 2nd edition of “Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish”

For a limited time I am offering a 23% discount when bought directly from my website!
Click here to go to the purchase page

The second edition of “Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish” is a collection of thirty-four essays by classroom teachers who pay special attention to what Stephen Krashen has written about educating heritage learners. Starting with a description of Krashen’s concept of “Language Shyness” and how it is reflected in our classes, we outline approaches that respect the unique needs of heritage learners. Topics include: the differences between heritage and native speakers of Spanish, a surprisingly illuminating essay about the differences between native-speaking and non-native speaking teachers, reflections on appropriate goals to structure a school year, home-school communication and issues particular to working with non-English speaking families, how to develop an independent reading program and how to structure a class with extremely heterogeneous reading levels, working within school cultures that may inadvertently undermine the needs of heritage learners, and a host a activities that work well in heritage learner classes. There are four essays outlining entirely different approaches to the school year: one that modifies a traditional thematic approach including descriptions for monthly units, a second approach based on pleasure reading designed to develop a love of reading even among low-level readers, a language arts approach designed to work in tandem with teachers in the ELA program, and an identity-based approach explicitly designed to strengthen the connections between home, school and community. In addition there are three essays detailing different approaches to leading mixed classes, with both heritage and non-heritage learners.

The second edition also strengthens our approach to reading, offering big picture advice on developing a pleasure reading program as well as concrete, day to day activities that are easy to follow when you are just too tired to think about the big picture. We want you to not only be an effective teacher, but to thoroughly enjoy your HL classes and design an experience that your students find compelling, stimulating and yes… even enjoyable.

Click here to see the table of contents of the second edition, with new essays and essays with substantial changes highlighted in yellow.

This book is also available on Amazon.

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Beginner Japanese lesson: A Happy to be Mean Scissors – with Kurumi

Click here to go straight to the video.

I am just a few lessons into my year long plunge into the Japanese language and I have already had a dream with Japanese words sloshing about 🙂 Although I have just started this journey, I feel like I am already getting some insights into my own practice as a language teacher. First of all, I love working with One Word Images (OWIs) to create a concrete object of conversation. It has helped me feel out how the Japanese language sounds and, unlike learning a few words out of context, I am already developing an early paradigm of Japanese grammar through the natural process of acquisition. Word order and these little particles are sliding into place, often I mimic them incorrectly in these first few hours of acquisition, but that is to be expected. I am feeling pretty good.

The questions that I am currently asking to create characters
However, as a Spanish teacher I had never sensed how the first scripted questions of the OWI process leads to adjectives that are not particularly useful. Well, I always knew that the questions led to a whimsical initial vocabulary, and I have no problem with that… but why am I talking about colors so much? Physical descriptions are okay, but describing the physical environment is not a high-frequency skill needed by language learners! As a result, in the coming lessons I am beginning to explore changing the initial questions in the OWI process. As a learner I find it useful to have a predictable framework of questions around the unpredictable language of the tutors. I like being able to observe how different tutors answer the same questions but, rather than bringing forward language about colors and size, I want to ask questions that calls forth high frequency actions (i.e. the Super 7 and eventually the Sweet 16 verbs).

The interesting experiment that I will be conducting in the next few months is to determine how quickly I feel comfortable expanding out from the Super Seven to the Sweet Sixteen verbs. If you are unfamiliar with these basic building blocks of a communicative curriculum, take a look at this blog post I wrote about applying the concept to my Spanish classes.

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Learning Japanese, Comprehensible Input and reflections on teaching

In mid-May I began publishing videos of my tutoring sessions as I acquire Japanese through the same CI methods that I use in the Spanish classes that I teach. Here is the link to the first complete session recorded (before I had some technical issues to overcome as I learned how to record via Skype).

If you want to follow along with me on this year-long project then perhaps you might first take a day or two and learn the basic Japanese writing system of Hiragana using this wonderful system. Or you can learn the characters in context… following the videos will give you that reading practice. When it comes to learning Japanese, I am not an expert. Talking to Japanese teachers has helped me recognize that I really am not yet sensitive to the issues that I am about to face.

As a language teacher, I think this video is fascinating. As I was watching the video after class I was amused that it took me so long to be able to hear many of the phrases. My goal was to get a maximum amount of comprehensible input through community storytelling methods. I decided to start with a series of One Word Images until I get comfortable with the basic questions that we use to create a character. In my Spanish classes I often move quickly from creating the first character to creating a problem and a little story around that character, but as we created our character in Japanese (a medium-sized sky-blue peach) I was feeling occupied enough with this static character. In the future I will explore the why’s behind the character’s details and develop a story (and I think our medium-sized peach has enough interesting details to deserve a story of his own when I am ready for it), but right now I am comfortable spending 60 minutes just describing our character.

Of course, the drawing provided a great touchstone for conversation in Japanese. In the video you hear me speaking a lot of English because I literally do not speak any Japaneseyet. I had made three OWIs with tutors before this video, so I had heard enough language to be able to tentatively say a few words, but really you are looking at a pure beginner. Let’s see how far I can go in a year!

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“How do you “catch up” the students who show up at random intervals throughout the year? How can students “recover credit” from absences?”

These two questions were recently voiced by CI teachers struggling with transient student populations. One reported that her former CI department gave up on CI because they could not catch up the students who enter the program late. I suspect that what was happening was that the students who remained in class acquired language, and kept on acquiring language, which made the students who were often absent or entering midyear appear even further behind. That the teachers decided to drop CI because some of their students were actually learning too much speaks to the problem of a fixed unit by unit curriculum. Let me describe what they should be doing instead.

I am known for creating the Sweet 16 verbs. The idea came from Terry Waltz’s fantastic “Super 7” verbs. Terry’s idea was to quickly get your class to a point in which you can tell simple stories, rather than spending months learning thematic vocabulary lists. That was a gigantic leap forward. However, the idea behind the “Sweet 16” verbs is not simply some more verbs tacked on to Terry´s list. When I first proposed the sweet 16, Terry was describing her Super 7 as an anchor for meaningful communication within the first few hours of class.

My contribution was to take an expanded list of sixteen high-frequency words and describe them as a full four year curriculum. Many people miss how this point is a dramatic step forward. In fact, teachers who want a highly-controlled curriculum (i.e., “every teacher does the same exact lesson”) often totally misunderstand this contribution. The Sweet Sixteen, as my department used them, is the essential structure that guides our non-targeted approach to language acquisition. Let me be clear: at the time I taught in a Title I school with a fairly transient population. We enjoyed a 100% pass rate on our AP and IB exams. CI works, even if the student comes in late, even if the student misses a lot of school, even if the students are coming to school high and oblivious (I am thinking about two former students who failed every IB exam except for Spanish… because CI works).

As a department chair trying to design a common experience for students in different classes, with a half dozen different teachers on staff, I could have sought to limit the creativity of students and teachers by insisting that every teacher follow the same collection of story scripts, movie talks, and novels. That is, “all Spanish 1 students will read X novel and discuss Z movie talk. All Spanish 2 students will acquire this list of target structures so that they will be “ready” for Spanish 3″. That is the approach that leads teachers to frustration because they conclude that their transient population is missing too much.

On the other hand, the Sweet 16 verbs represent a different path towards creating a common experience between classes. Of course we do not simply repeat sixteen words for four years, but we do agree that structures with these verbs are the ones that are recycled and given priority at every step in the journey. The only other guideline we follow is to simply strive to provide compelling CI, for four years.

We recognized that in any classroom there will be many different interests, and that when students are following their own interests then they perceive the input as more compelling, which leads to faster acquisition. That is the funny thing about those studies which try to count how many times a student needs to hear a word to fully acquire it… teachers know that swears might be fully acquired the very first time they are understood whereas an abstract transition word that the student never uses in their own L1 could be uttered comprehensibly 500 times and not be fully acquired. The Sweet 16 gives a department the flexibility to allow their teachers and students to pursue different interests in class, to use different language, but guarantees that there will be a common communicative foundation throughout the entire program. For example, the Sweet 16 verbs allow one teacher to develop an independent reading program for her students in which students are all reading different books (and thus developing their own idiosyncratic vocabularies), while another teacher develops his CI skills guiding his students through an authentic telenovela.

There is another major advantage to running a department this way. When any of my teachers get students at the beginning of the year, we do not have a list of target structures in our minds that we assume our students have acquired. We do not get angry if our level 3 kids do not understand X phrase; instead we are trained to start the conversation assuming nothing and paying close attention to their eyes. At all levels, as we think about how to phrase our language so that it will be comprehensible, we all return to the Sweet 16 verbs and posters. It is a common experience in all classes, even though I spend a week talking about whales and my colleague spends weeks talking about football (what would you expect from a football coach!).

This is necessary because students move into our district at every level, and we cannot just leave them behind because they did not start with us. We need to provide a comprehensible experience at all levels, even if students missed the first 3 years of our CI program because they were learning thematic vocab in another district.

If you are interested, a succinct but complete description of my non-targeted approach to CI is available in my book My Perfect Year: A Practical Guide For Language Teachers. I will also be in many locations giving workshops this summer and next Autumn, check my schedule here.

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Comprehensible Cascadia in Portland OREGON is the Language Lovers conference

Get ready for a good time!

Comprehensible Cascadia is a small, intimate CI conference held in July in Portland, Oregon. WOW does it pack a punch! One of the strengths of the conference is the coherent vision among presenters. This is not a conference that will leave you unable to implement the strategies once you are back in the classroom. Each track is well-planned with a morning session in which you experience the methods as a student and an afternoon session in which you practice delivering the methods as a teacher.

This year there are two tracks: a track for teaching beginners through intermediate level students (roughly levels 1-3) and a track for teaching upper level students (roughly from level 3 through to AP, IB or level 5). Within the first track participants choose which lesser taught language they want to experience as a student: either Korean, Cherokee, ASL or Scottish-Gaelic. Participants experience learning a new language in the morning and then practice the techniques as a teacher in the afternoon (led by Tina Hargaden). The Upper level track learns CALP strategies in the morning with Tina Hargaden and practices and extends those strategies with me in the afternoon sessions.

Comprehensible Cascadia is the only CI Conference that has an ASL track. Last year I had the chance to observe Frederick Stamps teach ASL and, as a Spanish teacher, I was blown away by his technique and his ability to make himself comprehensible. In the past I have walked away from ASL demos with the sinking feeling that a sign language is really hard for me to learn, but Fred makes it effortless and fun.

Many people believe that Asian languages are particularly difficult to learn; I will be joining the morning sessions with Janet Kyung learning Korean and participating as moderator. Together we will demonstrate that there simply are no “difficult” languages, only difficult approaches to teaching a language. We are opting for the easy way full of laughter: we will follow the star sequence that includes co-creating visual characters (OWIs), Story-Creation, Write & Discuss, Visual Story Telling, Visual Culture, easy reading choices and plenty of active strategies that get you on your feet and processing the target language. The Korean language will be running through your dreams at night!

Wade Blevins will be leading the morning session in Cherokee. He was born in the small Cherokee community of Butler, Oklahoma and is a member of the Squirrel Ridge Ceremonial Grounds. For the past 11 years, Wade has worked for Cherokee Nation in the Education department helping with his tribe’s language revitalization efforts. Wade is an award winning Native artist and writer, having written 7 children’s books on Cherokee culture. He is also very involved in his tribe’s ceremonies and has served as a ceremonial singer and leader from an early age. Wade feels like CI techniques will be the key to helping his people pass their language down to the next generation. With the support of Cherokee Nation and other partners, Wade recently organized the IGNITE conference, the nation’s first CI conference specifically for Native language educators in June 2017.

Have you ever thought to yourself that you just do not have the energy to do CI all day every day? You need to experience Jason Bond’s unique approach to CI. Meditation and mindfulness is the foundation for Jason’s everyday life. Over the years, he deepened his practice on retreats at Samye Ling temple in Scotland and at Plum Village in France. Lately, he has trained as a meditation teacher under the guidance of Julian ‘Daizan’ Skinner, the first Englishman to become a Rinzai Zen master in Japan. Jason also became one of Daizan’s Zen students. This new direction is dedicated to helping others develop calm, stability, and focus – three invaluable qualities for any stage of the CI journey. Jason will be teaching the Scottish-Gaelic morning session.

We are bringing Pablo Pankun Román to Portland for his only appearance in the States this summer. Pablo is an amazing polyglot that you may know from his Dreaming Spanish videos. He learns his languages through pure CI approaches and will be leading a one day pre-conference Spanish class for teachers on Monday. Pablo has an entirely different approach to CI than that which is presented at the big conferences in the US, partly because his exposure to CI draws from his experiences in Japan and Thailand where the organic nature of language acquisition is emphasized. Throughout the week I plan on exploring the outer reaches of CI techniques with Pablo and contemplating how these techniques might translate to the context of US public schools.

Comprehensible Cascadia is the conference that pushes boundaries and explores new paths. And OMG Portland has good food!!! Come out to dinner and then join us at Ben Slavic’s place afterwards for evening coaching and great conversations.

Come join me for a week of language learning & teaching fun!

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OWI tweak for nervous teachers

I can be a nervous teacher at times. I hate having to keep track of many things at once… I like to be able to simply focus on my students and their responses. I find that if part of my mind is focused on one or two steps ahead of where we are, then I cannot react to what we are doing in the moment and my nervousness ends up making me miss some of those beautiful, enjoyable moments of pure creativity.

A few weeks ago I was in Cameron Taylor’s classroom and we were working on One Word Images (OWI) in four different languages: Portuguese, Japanese, Mandarin and French. Normally when I demo we stick to one language and delve deep into that language so that workshop participants can get a sense of the depth of acquisition that can happen with OWIs. Since our Japan workshop lasted two days rather than one, we decided to work in small groups after the initial demo so that more people could experience the process of making a OWI from the teacher’s perspective before returning to their classrooms on the following Monday.

On the board I wrote a quick outline of the characteristics that I was going to ask about to help scaffold the process. Normally in my own classroom I have this posted on a small note card because my heritage students lead OWI creation during lunch tutorials. It never occurred to me, however, how useful it is for everyone to be able to see the scaffolding! Not only do I, the nervous teacher, no longer have to consult my note card to remember what the next question is… but students are now anticipating the questions and thinking of more creative responses beforehand. Cameron added this tweak to his classes the following Monday and reported that they created one of their best OWIs yet!

I created a poster that you can download and hang on the side of the whiteboard. If you print it in color then you get a cool blue glow, but it still looks good printed in black & white.

Remember that the purpose of posting this scaffold poster is to be able to participate in the flow of the lesson with your students. If you use this and find that you are listening to your students less as you barrel through the list of characteristics, then slow down! The whole idea is to be in the moment and listen carefully to your students’ brilliant ideas. Download the poster by clicking here: it is a series of four pages printed in landscape mode.

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Earth Day 2018

A few points of departure for discussion in class today:

(1) Start with this maravilla about the Ka’apor people who live in the Amazon. Una maravilla is a marvelous thing, and so that is how I refer to this series which I use to introduce the people and cultures of Latin America to my students. The Ka’apor people struggle to prevent deforestation from destroying their way of life. This download contains a picture talk, a subtitled video, a short highly comprehensible reading followed by space for a Write & Discuss activity. This should be able to be completed within 15-20 minutes.

(2) Ska de la Tierra (song)

(a) we did NOT listen first, we just looked at the lyrics and translated/discussed with the audio off. While the song goes fast, this first look at the lyrics is pretty easy.

zoom(b) This matching game is Spanish audio to Spanish text so that students get to hear her voice before actually viewing the video. After matching I chose a student to translate all of the lyrics. We do this several times to acquaint ourselves further with the song.

(c) We watch this version of the video, which has excellent images matching the principal lyrics.

(3) Video “Man”. A bit disturbing, but really gets to the idea that we should be thoughtful about how we use natural resources.

Now let´s focus on why we love the natural world:
(4) Los 30 lugares más bonitos del mundo
We sat in quiet awe as we watched this video.

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Anyone want to take this French class with me?!

Are you a Spanish teacher like me who wishes they could sit in and observe an advanced French class?Although it says “advanced”, I personally have taken that as aspiration rather than description. Each class is a discussion of an AP-theme reading that we read before class. Take a look, there are currently only 5 people signed up and we need 6.

Advanced French for French Teachers (and other advanced speakers of French) – Online!

Do you wish you had more French-teacher colleagues? Do you feel like your French is stagnating because you only talk with your students? Join us for this 6-session Advanced French class taught by Anna Gilcher, PhD.

Anna is a well-known national presenter and trainer on teaching with comprehensible input and creating diversity-positive classrooms. Learn more about her at

**Inscrivez-vous ici**

Prix: $216/personne pour la série (payable par Venmo, Google Pay, ou Paypal – ou payable par chèque)

Places disponibles: 20 (minimum 6)

Dates (jeudi 16h30-17h30 EDT)
le 22 mars
le 5 avril
le 12 avril
le 29 avril
le 3 mai
le 10 mai*
*si tout le monde est disponible le 29 mars, on se verra le 29 mars au lieu de se rencontrer le 10 mai

J’enverrai chaque semaine (le lundi avant le cours) le texte dont on discutera.
Voici les thèmes pour les séances (les thèmes viennent du cours AP):
séance 1: La famille et la communauté
séance 2: La science et la technologie
séance 3: L’esthétique
séance 4: La vie contemporaine
séance 5: Les défis mondiaux
séance 6: La quête de soi


Anna Gilcher, PhD
Co-Director, Elevate Education Consulting
Your brain can learn French & Spanish!
French/Spanish lessons for all ages and brains

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Write & Discuss example

As I was preparing a video session for Scott Benedict’s online conference I looked through some old class footage to see if I could caption a good example of a typical Write & Discuss (W & D) session. This is the activity that I recommend any CI teacher end their class with, regardless of what was being done in class. It is surprising to me that many CI teachers do not end their classes with a quick W & D… whether you have spent the class interviewing a student, chatting about the weekend or even watching youtube videos, W & D is an excellent way to get one last repetition of the input by summarizing the class period and getting that information into their notebooks. The W & D texts are a great answer when parents ask what their children are supposed to study for midterm or final exams.

To be clear, W & D is a short end of class routine that lasts from 5 to 10 minutes. Here is a typical 55 minute lesson that I might have planned (or just performed off the cuff):

The following example of Write & Discuss came after creating a class story like in the first lesson plan, but it could have easily focused on the chat about after school plans, or both. Here is the video:

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Ode to Annabelle Allen

A day with Annabelle Allen, 2018 Louisiana Foreign language Teacher of the Year

Most people know Annabelle “la maestra loca” Allen for her incredible charisma, high-energy and, of course, her signature brain breaks. Today I spent the day with forty other lucky teachers and Annabelle at East Wake Academy in North Carolina. One thing that struck me as I followed her presentation is that Annabelle Allen is much more than brain breaks. I often hear people say that they could not reproduce Annabelle’s kind of high-energy performance in class, but sifting past what I cannot imitate left me with the characteristic of great teachers that I must be able to channel if I want to be effective: Annabelle is incredibly mindful of her students. It can be hard not to get swept up in the absolute hurricane that is her personality, but it would be a mistake to believe that her performance is on a stage untouched and unaware of her audience. How many times have I taught with a sort of tunnel vision, not truly taking the time to look deeply into the eyes of my students?!

Annabelle reminded me today of another hero of mine who has the uncanny ability to calmly, lovingly remember each student’s contribution to a class story and consistently honors that student by gently gesturing in her direction whenever that contribution is recalled in class. If you have ever sat in a class taught by Ben Slavic, you know how special you feel when he says your detail a day later during a retell, then pauses, gently raising his hand palm up in your direction, pausing still to make eye contact with you and for a second nods slightly with a grateful smile as if to say, “yes, blue, you saved our story with that wonderful idea of yours, of course our character is blue“. The difference between Ben’s slow, pondering approach and Annabelle’s frenetic energy could not be greater on a superficial level, yet they are undoubtedly related.

I have heard people suggest that when you observe another CI teacher you should take notes on how they made themselves comprehensible. It is a technique that helps the viewer maintain some distance so that, instead of being entranced by the lesson, the observer can actively observe the mechanics of a good CI teacher. If you have the chance to observe Annabelle, however, consider making a list of how she makes each student feel valued and loved. Some of her techniques, like the crayons of many different colors technique, she will openly articulate… while others are worth holding yourself slightly outside of the tornado of her lesson with the hope of getting a glimpse at how thoroughly she observes the students in her midst.

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My Perfect Year: A Practical Guide for Language Teachers

I have just published the book that accompanies the workshop that I am giving this Spring. If you are attending a workshop then you will get a free copy, but if you cannot make it the book is currently on sale. Purchased from my website it is 20% off.

This guide is more than a collection of effective activities for any language classroom; it succinctly describes my entire approach that I use all year long in levels one through three. Starting with routines and class space, I describe how to design an effective classroom environment for language acquisition. I cover my approach to essential activities that provide personalized, imaginative and comprehensible language throughout the year. Also learn how to develop and maintain a classroom library for any language, with special attention to providing lower level texts for absolute beginners. Since an independent reading program is a core element to my approach, I describe a multi-year plan to build your reading program including ideas outlining how to transition from no reading program and reading activities that support independent readers. Special attention is dedicated to the use of authentic videos in a comprehensible classroom. Learn to expand a sixty second video into a language-rich fifty-five minute lesson plan. This guide also outlines an essential technique for the health and well-being of all teachers: how to organize a “substitute day while you are still in class” for those days when you need a rest but want your students to continue acquiring language. Remain refreshed and fascinated with the target cultures where the language you teach is spoken so that you can provide imaginative, compelling lessons to your students! This guide closes with advice on how to lead a department in transition from traditional methods to comprehensible input methods in a way that respects the professional judgement of all educators in your department.

Click here to purchase the book.

Mike Peto is a Spanish teacher who led his department to transition to proficiency-based methods of language acquisition and, with the collaboration of his team, they enjoy a 100% pass rate on AP and IB exams. Known for his blog documenting his teaching, My Generation of Polyglots, Mike is also the editor of a collection of essays for teachers of heritage learners of Spanish, Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners, and the author of several novels for language learners. He has given workshops on language acquisition around the world and is a well-known presenter at national and regional conventions for language teachers. His essays have been included in seminal publications on comprehensible input methods such as Fluency Through Reading and Storytelling (7th edition) by Blaine Ray and Contee Seeley and A Natural Approach to the Year by Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic. Mike is also a founding member of The CI Posse.

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Energize your teaching for the Spring semester with a workshop with Mike

Angie Dodd is hosting me on Saturday, March 17th at her school in Brattleboro, Vermont. “My Perfect Year Demo Day” is a full day demonstration of fundamental comprehensible input activities that make up a perfect year. Highly adaptable to beginners through advanced students, this demo day includes easy CI routines for raw beginners, working with student created images, class management techniques for a safe & creative classroom, co-creating narrative vignettes with your students, visual storytelling, Mike’s unique comprehensible music activities, book talk activities and tips for making the best of your classroom library, demo of movie talk & using telenovelas as anchor texts in both beginner and advanced classes.

This workshop is currently halfway to sold out. Register here.

I also have some time available the following week (March 20-24) if you are interested in hosting me on the eastern side of the state in either Massachusetts or Connecticut.

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Energize your teaching for the Spring semester with a workshop with Mike

Portland, Oregon – TWO WORKSHOPS (Choose the one that is most convenient for you)- Monday Feb 12 at Westside Christian High School in Tigard, Oregon and also Friday February 16 at Oregon City School District’s District Admin Office, 1417 12th Street, Oregon City.

“My Perfect Year Demo Day” is a full day demonstration of fundamental comprehensible input activities that make up a perfect year. Highly adaptable to beginners through advanced students, this demo day includes easy CI routines for raw beginners, working with student created images, class management techniques for a safe & creative classroom, co-creating narrative vignettes with your students, visual storytelling, Mike’s unique comprehensible music activities, book talk activities and tips for making the best of your classroom library, demo of movie talk & using telenovelas as anchor texts in both beginner and advanced classes.

Participants that sign up by February 5th receive a free copy of Mike’s book, Activities for a Perfect Year. Early discount available now.

Register for Monday workshop in Tigard by clicking here.
Register for Friday workshop in Oregon City by clicking HERE.

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Sometimes students long for something real

Working with student-created images does not have to be frivolous

I was looking through some of my favorite One Word Images that my students created in 2017 and I came across the story of Coco, the tale of a transgender piece of paper born with all of the biological parts of un papel but self-identifying as “una hoja” de papel. I made this with a Spanish 3 class.

I did not walk into class that day with the intention of creating a heavy story. I did sense that students were not in the mood for another crazy adventure with wacky details and a nonsensical plot. Sometimes they like that; when they take ownership of such a story there is no better use of class time than following that crazy story. But when students get burned out on stories, sometimes what they really want is to talk about something real.

The trick to eliciting these kinds of stories is to zealously protect a classroom culture of trust. Adolescents constantly monitor social boundaries. When a student makes an off-color remark, every adolescent in the room is watching to see what is permitted by the teacher. When a student makes a racist or homophobic comment, a stern but silent look of reproach is not the right response. Silence communicates to some students that there are some things which are left unsaid in polite society, but we essentially agree. It took me a long time to realize that the stern glare of reproach does not condemn intolerance, instead it pathetically pleads “not here, please don’t ruin my class”. Every other student observes this dynamic. Students in such a class learn that their feelings will not be protected, that there is no line that cannot be crossed. I developed a routine that I call “the cool generation” to create a safe space in my classroom. Click here to read about it; the key is to make sure that you get a full, hearty class response that they reject the hatred of past generations.

On that day I chose the drawing of a piece of paper from a pile that students had created weeks beforehand. Sometimes when class-created stories are not clicking I will “press the reset button” by having students draw for ten minutes in silence, and then we will move on with a student interview or a movie talk. For that reason I always have a pile of drawings on my desk that we can later use as inspiration. As I held up the drawing and we established some basic information about the character, I listened closely and did not jump at the first crazy idea that was offered.

This is the character that my kids came up with. Totally respectful, these kids embraced the metaphor in our character and created a serious, meaningful story. Here is the set-up to “Coco” that we created on the first day:

En un bosque mágico hay una hoja de papel que se llama Coco. Coco nació con todas las partes biológicas de un papel, pero ahora que tiene ocho años y seis meses ella se identifica como “una hoja”, no como “un papel”.

Todos los árboles del bosque son las madres de Coco. Coco tiene muchas mamás.

Ella tiene un hermano mayor también. El hermano es un papel grande que le pega a Coco cuando sus madres no están mirando. Coco se pone maquillaje (líquido corrector) para que sus mamás no vean los moretones.

That took us a good half hour of discussion in Spanish to develop the idea while making sure that each development of our story remained perfectly comprehensible to everyone. When the student came up with that first powerhouse idea, that Coco self-identifies as “a piece of paper” (feminine noun) although she was born with all of the biological parts of “un papel” (masculine noun), I paused and in English told the class that we could not move forward if we could not do this respectfully. “I am willing to follow this story to see where it goes, but we are not using this as a code to make fun of somebody real in this school. Are you with me?” I think that pausing and explicitly setting the boundaries in English was important, even though that was a norm that should be expected of any class story. I think it also served as a social cue that we were doing something extraordinary in that story, and so the engagement was quite high.

The next day was one of the most emotionally draining classes I have ever taught. At first everyone was silent, reluctant to face what we constructed the day before. I let them brainstorm in pairs for a few minutes and then an avalanche of violent, vengeful plots came forward… pushing her bully brother into a paper shredder, for example. Finally I turned to them and admitted (in English) that I really needed a hopeful ending. An ending that did not walk the road of violence. An ending that is not pure fantasy but maybe, with the help of a little poetry, could help us imagine a brighter future. Wow did they come through. The ending is bittersweet.

This was an effective language class because students were so engaged. It is not a question of how many repetitions did I get on a particular target structure– when students are highly engaged, they pick up more with less repetitions. This is how my students learn the subjunctive, this is how they learn advanced grammatical constructions like si clauses. We were also hitting so many AP and IB themes in this story that it is no wonder that my students can spontaneously respond when they take those exams after only four years of classes.

Here is the rest of the story that we created together on the second day:

Coco se culpa por el abuso de su hermano. Ella se dice que no debe decírselo a nadie. Ella cree que es ella la mala. Ella cree que si dijera algo a sus mamás, sería una mala hoja de papel. Nosotros sabemos que ella está equivocada, pero muchas veces las víctimas se quedan en silencio. No debe ser así, pero desafortunadamente es normal.

Un día Coco decide decir algo a su mamá. Ella dice a una de sus mamás que su hermano le pega y primero la mamá no cree que sea la verdad. “Mi hijo nunca te pegaría”, dice la mamá-árbol. Después la mamá le dice que “papeles serán papeles” y que Coco no debe provocar a su hermano. Coco se pone muy triste.

Coco decide que necesita irse. Ella se dobla y se convierte en un avión de papel. Vuela muy lejos. El hermano está solo. Después de años él se siente solo, muy solo. Él quiere hablar con su hermana, pero ella no está.

Un día el hermano recibe un regalo. Cuando abre el regalo, él ve que el papel alrededor del regalo es su hermana. Ella volvió solo cuando él estaba listo para verla.

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Persona normal by Benito Taibo

A good addition to a heritage learners classroom library

There are some books that speak to adolescents who are forming a worldview. Over the past year I have suggested Benito Taibo’s Persona normal as an independent reading choice to four of my advanced heritage learners. Three of the students politely returned the book to the bookshelf unread. The fourth student devoured it. He wrote on Goodreads: “nunca supe que un libro puede ser tan estimulante de emoción”. Looking at some of the other reviews (there are close to 2000 of them), this book clearly speaks to certain young people, to inspire them and celebrate a reading life. It seems to alienate some other readers. Well, truthfully I am among the alienated crowd, but I would still recommend buying this book as an independent reading choice for advanced heritage learners. Suggest it to students who may already see themselves as possessing an intellectual inclination and who may see themselves as non-conformists.

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Low Income School? Here is funding to bring students abroad!!

Eligible if at least 40% of your students are receiving free and reduced price lunch

I was recently contacted by the FLYTE Organization, which funds trips for low-income schools that are well outlined and thought out with clear educational and cultural goals. The application window is extremely tight; you need to start working on this now. Before leaving for Winter Break I would drop by to see my principal and get her signature. Look at the deadlines to the left; that is to lead a trip during the summer of 2018. To me this deadline seems so tight that I suspect many school systems would not be able to approve it, which means if you can then your chances of leading a free trip for your students are that much better.

Here is the link to the application guidelines.

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Desaparecido – The thrill of connecting a reader with a home run book

Last July I posted about Spanish translations of graphic novels and manga that I enthusiastically recommend for the classroom. Well, I have exciting news: one of the great manga series, called Desaparecido in Spanish, has been adapted to Netflix. It is called “Erased” in English.

Yes, the audio is in Japanese. Yes, there are options for Spanish as well as English subtitles. But none of that matters to me; what I am excited about is the possibility of matching a student with a home run book. Last year I was able to bond with an otherwise inscrutable heritage learner through our mutual admiration for this series. Finding this series probably was the only reason he eventually paid enough attention in class to actually pass, so I am deeply grateful that it was translated into Spanish. Now that the series is playing on Netflix I anticipate being able to interest non-Spanish speaking otaku, i.e., kids obsessed with manga, often sometimes to the detriment of their social skills (see comment thread below).

The language in the books is certainly not comprehensible for lower level learners, but this is a case in which extreme high-interest may serve as a bridge to reading. Especially if they have already seen the version on Netflix. In any case, these manga are great for book talks and, supplementing it with a few screen shots from the Netflix version, this could be a key book to interest an otherwise impenetrable student. You can find the books for sale here on Spanish Amazon (there are actually 7 or 8 books in the series, but just buy the first to see if it works in your classroom). And, in any case, you probably need something to binge watch over Winter Break. I am only two episodes in, but I am really enjoying the Netflix adaptation of the popular manga. Watch it so you can “sell” the reading to your kids!

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A whole slew of new comprehensible novels!!!

There are lots of new CI novels being published by independent authors, which is very exciting for those of us with classroom libraries. Here is one of the key secrets to reading in the classroom: kids may be fickle readers, but there is a “home run” book for every reader. The bigger the diversity of comprehensible texts, the more likely you will be able to match a student with a book that tickles their fancy. Only a few years ago CI teachers were on a quest to find the perfect book that pleases everyone in class, but now the focus has shifted to matching each student with a book that will ignite a passion for reading in their second language. For Spanish teachers, this is more and more possible… in level 1! Let’s take a look at some of the new books out there:

Pancho y las momias by Rachel Emery. When Pancho and a new friend sneak into the Guanajuato Mummy Museum at night, unexpected events send them on an adventure around the city. Yes, there are hilarious scenes of mummies waking up and causing havoc in Guanajuato, but there is also something about this book that just feels authentic. Details like the illustration of the man selling tamales and atole set the scene perfectly. The author has captured an aspect of Guanajuato that clearly could only come from real life. I also like that the chapters are very short. It is a novel written in comprehensible Spanish for late beginner/early intermediate Spanish students. Both present and past tense versions of the story are included.

Los tres amigos by Jennifer Degenhardt. It is about time that LGBTQ students can finally find a CI novel that is not implicitly heteronormative! As if teenage friendships aren’t hard enough… Marissa and Jack have been best friends for as long as they can remember, only having troubles when Jack wasn’t always honest about himself. Despite their differences, their friendship endures. However, that friendship is challenged when a new student, Julio, moves to town and upsets the longstanding dynamic between Marissa and Jack. In this level 2+ book, which includes aspects of Puerto Rican culture, readers learn useful vocabulary and are introduced to a progression of verb tenses through the easily understandable plot — understandable even if the emotions of the teenagers are not.

El Jersey by Jennifer Degenhardt. Matías is a typical 7-year-old boy. He is huge fan of the professional soccer teams in Europe, especially the teams in the Spanish league, La Liga. When Matías is not playing soccer, he is watching soccer videos on the iPad. He always looks the part, too, as he can mostly be found wearing uniforms of players on his favorite team, FC Barcelona. He focus on the ball continues as when he travels to Guatemala with his family on an annual trip where he meets Brayan. Brayan is a 6-year-old Guatemalan boy who also loves soccer. Like Matías he plays every chance he gets. Also like Matías, Brayan idolizes his favorite player on the Barça team, Lionel Messi, #10. He wants nothing more than to wear a jersey with the famous forward’s name and number, but those are difficult to find where he lives on Lake Atitlán. In this level 1 book, readers will learn about the culture of Guatemala and how a soccer jersey further connects two soccer-obsessed boys from two different countries. This is a level 1 reader for anyone ages 10-100. The author allowed me to post a preview so that you can evaluate how easy this book will be for your students, click here to download the preview.

El viaje difícil by Jennifer Degenhardt. A story of the times. Juan and his family live in small town in the department of Sacatepequez, Guatemala. Their life, which is simple and good, becomes challenging when their earnings become insufficient to maintain the family. Concerned for the welfare of his family whom he loves, Juan makes the difficult decision to make his way to the United States in search of work opportunities. Based on a story told to the author, this book recounts Juan’s journey north as well as examines the effect of his absence on the family he leaves behind. Readers learn facets of Guatemalan culture through entry level vocabulary and grammar.

Casi me mata el celular by A.C. Quintero. Spanish Level 2/3 Easy Reader. Federico, Damián, and Rubén are your typical teens. They play sports, skateboard, and watch pranks on Youtube; they’ve even mastered filming some of their own pranks at their favorite hangout: la librería. This abandoned bookstore is far away from the adult supervision that seeks to threaten their fun. However, the night of Friday the 13th, their joke goes sour when they stumble upon an uncanny situation. In an effort to satisfy their curiosity, they witness something that will change their lives forever. Now they have to make it out of the sticky situation, alive. “Casi me mata el celular” will take students on a thrilling ride and compel them to contemplate the consequences on the other side of the “Record” button.

La clase de confesiones by A.C. Quintero. Carlos hates Spanish class with a passion but finds the will to survive when he lays eyes on Jessica. She is the reason he “tolerates” his boring class. However, his secret crush is compromised when his teacher decides to “shake things up a bit” in class. A simple writing assignment turns out to be a lethal injection to his social life and by extension his chances with Jessica. First, his nosy teacher tries to “set him up with Jessica,” this plan immediately backfires. Then, the unthinkable happens and Carlos is stunned. This turns into one of the most embarrassing moments in his life. But all is not lost. If Carlos plays his cards right, he could have a winning hand. Carlos invites you to come along on this adventure into La clase de confesiones where…”todos tienen una confesión,” even the teacher!

La bella mentira by A.C. Quintero Carlos is having a bad day, and it’s about to get worse. He leaves Spanish class utterly embarrassed. He had no idea that the teacher was going to partner him up with Jessica, the girl he actually writes about in his class essay. Adding insult to injury, the teacher reads his essay in front of the class, even the mean-spirited things he wrote about his teacher. After running into a few more problems in math class (and his crazy math teacher!), he is faced with the big showdown in the lunchroom. Now, Carlos is between *”la espada y la pared.” He has to make serious decisions. However, a short story in Spanish class may hold the key to all of his problems, and may ultimately lead to his biggest confession of all. Find out in the second installment of the series.

La novia perfecta by Bryan Kandel. This 5,000 word Spanish novel uses simple language to tell the compelling tale of a man who tries his luck at internet dating and ends up on the adventure of his life. The text can be understood by students in level 2 Spanish classes, and the compelling story will engage readers at any level.


If you write a CI novel, please drop me a line so that I can check it out. This blog is read by between 500 to 1000 CI teachers every day, and I am pleased to share your work with the CI community. There has never been a better time to develop an independent reading program in your world language classroom.

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Workshop series – 2018

Contact me if you would like to host an inexpensive workshop.


King George, Virginia – September 7 (Friday) “My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach

Parker, Colorado – September 21 (Friday)
“My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach


Cincinnati area, Ohio – Saturday, October 20th.
“My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach
Workshop will take place at:
Liberty Bible School
4900 Old Irwin Simpson Rd.
Mason, OH 45040

Savannah, Georgia – Saturday, October 27th.
“My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach

Anaheim, CA – Saturday, November 3rd. “My Perfect Year” overview of my entire approach to teaching a second language. Suitable for teachers of all languages.

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Modifying the blog

A few people have written in to tell me that certain parts of my blog are not functioning or missing. Thank you! The explanation is that I am currently working to make it easier to browse. By next week all of the links and pages will be fully restored, and it will be easier to find specific content when you want it. Thank you for your patience!!

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Alina´s Inspiring Approach to Accountability with FVR

Alina Filipescu is a teacher who radiates love for her students. She is also a teacher who commands enormous respect from them and, as a result, she is an absolute master at classroom management. I asked Alina to allow me to publish this preview of her coming blog post which will thoroughly describe her entire FVR program. I will link to it once she publishes it. In the meantime, enjoy her spot-on advice for inspiring students to read more in their second language.

Here is how Alina describes her accountability system:

This is what ACCOUNTABILITY looks like when implementing a reading program (SSR/FVR).

1. Students turn in a book they finished reading w/ a sticky note.

2. The most important item on the note is rating the book (1-5 stars) just like the critics do. Students may also write an optional comment about the book.

3. Teacher keeps track of how many books each students reads. I have a list with student names and names of books. I highlight a square on the list when a student finishes a book.

4. Remove sticky notes and either put them on the inside cover of a book for the next student to read (this is what I did last year, all year long) OR post the sticky notes by class, on a wall (this is what I’ve implemented this year).

I have already posted some of these ideas (along w/ Bryce Hedstrom), but this is my complete list on accountability. I NEVER have students do summaries or other dreaded assignments after reading a book. I also share some of their reviews before we do silent reading on Fridays, in order to inspire and motivate others. I’ve noticed that even more students are writing short comments since I’ve been doing this. It’s a simple, yet very efficient way to promote the books.

Update 1/4/2018: read Alina’s full post that expands upon this idea

Click here to read Mónica Romero´s original post that inspired Alina.

Alina Filipescu is a Spanish teacher in Southern California and a regular presenter at NTPRS. She is a contributor to the Ignite Language blog.

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How EASY it is to self-publish your CI novel

Let me walk you through the process step by step

I just self-published my fourth book, a translation of my popular novel Superhamburgers into Brazilian Portuguese (I also have translations of Superhamburgers in French & Spanish as well as a collection of essays about teaching Spanish to heritage learners). A fifth book, a graphic novel prequel to Superhamburgers, is on the way and will be published in December. Once you have written a book, formatting it, getting it printed professionally and offering it on Amazon is a pretty simple process. As I was completing this last book I took a lot of screen shots so that I could walk you through the process.

This post is not about the creative process of writing a CI novel– I will write about that in a later post. The post is simply about the technical side of getting your work published and then offering it to the world without having to market, organize inventory, shipping, returns or any of that business stuff. Being a teacher is enough hassle. Once you have written a text, all you need is a word processing program.

I print my books through a service called Createspace, which is a subsidiary of and therefore makes it very easy to offer published work online. You can set up a free account by following that link– in fact, you can do this whole process for free. I will also show you how to offer your book on Kindle, which is a good deal for both you and your readers.

Step One: Correct the Page Size

Starting from the document in Word: Change the size of the page to 9 x 6 to reflect the size of the page in your published book. Once you do this, then you will not have to worry too much about printing errors because the document on your computer will really mirror exactly what will be printed. A word document normally has a default size of a normal letter-sized piece of paper. In order to change the page size you must first click on “Page Layout”, then “Size” and finally click on the last option, “More Paper Sizes”. A new box will pop up where you can manually change the size of the paper to Width: 6 (inches) and Height: 9 (inches).

Step Two: Get an ISBN Number & create a Copyright page
Logged into the Createspace page you need to fill in the first two pages so that you can get an ISBN number, which you will then copy onto one of the first pages on your book. This is what it looked like for my latest book:

Once you have the ISBN number, you need to create the Copyright page. I usually leave the first printed page blank and then place the Copyright page on the second page of the book. Book Design Made Simple has a good explanation of exactly what you want to include on a Copyright page.

Step Three: Thank those who have reviewed your manuscript

Do not forget this part! I have a native speaker read and comment on everything that I write. Even if you are a native speaker, have someone from a different region read your manuscript. It is easy to find collaborators; just ask on one of the CI Facebook groups. It is always appreciated to send that person free copies of your book once published.

Step Four: Upload the interior manuscript

I recommend that you save your word doc as a .PDF before uploading it. Images and fonts sometimes jump around when it is uploaded as a .docx but in any case you will have the opportunity to preview your files.

Here is an screen shot of what the manuscript preview looks like. As you can see, it automatically flagged one of my images that was slightly placed outside of one of the margins. The previewer is pretty cool; you can flip through your book and get a sense of what it will really look like.

Step Five: A few things to consider adding to your manuscript

As you can see, I like to embed cartoons into my books to help scaffold the reading. Since I do not know the students who will be reading the book, I also like to provide footnotes on any vocabulary or expressions that are not high-frequency. I also like to include a word cloud of the words that appear in each chapter that teachers can use either as an aid in class discussions or to scaffold student retells.

I am also particular about the glossary. Most students are not going to use the glossary (especially if you have footnotes), but those that do use it want to quickly find the word and return to the story. For that reason I go out of my way to add EVERY word, conjugated verbs and obvious cognates included, and also include idiomatic phrases that may be hard for some students to put together. The glossary is without doubt the most annoying part of the book to put together, but if done well it will help readers enjoy the book. I always assume that a student glancing back at the glossary is a struggling reader, so I try to include as much support as possible.

Step Six: Create a cover

The front and back cover is one simple image that wraps around:

You can create the image using a program as simple as Windows Paint (which is what I do). The exact size of the binding (and therefore the image) depends upon the number of pages. Createspace has instructions so that you create the perfect sized cover.

Step Seven: Order a proof copy and approve for printing

I strongly recommend that you order a physical print copy before placing your book on Amazon. It will cost around $2.15. The Amazon page for your book will normally be created within hours of your approval.

Step Eight: Tell us that you have published a book!

I will happily advertise your book on CI-Reading, a blog for indie authors of CI novels. Just contact me with your book information. This is a free service.

I also recommend that you get a blog and post information about your book. It is most effective to post the first two chapters of your novel so that readers can preview your writing style. Here are the first two chapters of my latest novel, in Portuguese.

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Small change, big impact

I am getting great feedback from workshop participants who adopt this tiny tweak.

When you end class with a Write & Discuss activity (which I almost always do), stand in front and physically write on the board rather than projecting the writing from a computer. I know… it is so much more convenient to be able to press save and keep the word document for next class.

However, this is the point in class in which students have received so much input that you can confidently elicit unplanned responses from them. When you are standing in front, you make eye contact. You write one word to start the summary and you scan the class for the next word from a student ready to play the game. W & D is not simply a summarizing activity; a good W & D bounces from student voice to student voice with the teacher merely guiding the written output so that it is correct. A truly great W & D flows in a direction that the teacher may not have anticipated, yet does summarize the conversation that took place in class that day.

From the back or side with the lights dimmed to better see the projected image, a teacher squinting at the keyboard (and eager to sum up the class before the bell rings) will naturally take control of the flow of the text. Students become passive observers of the summary. There is nothing wrong with letting students just read the summary as you create it, but I think it is generally more effective to encourage their natural creativity and playfulness with the language. Not all students are going to speak up, and that is okay. However, I suspect that this more playful approach to W & D helps not only those students who are eager to speak in class, but also scaffolds the writing process for those quiet students who have not begun to produce effortless fluency writes.

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La familia de Federico Rico – Super EASY read

Click on picture to go to the author´s website
Have you noticed how awesomely easy to read are the novels by Craig Klein Dexemple? I have not read this one yet, but in my mind this author is trustworthy to promote without having read. In addition, this book has over 200 illustrations and the author’s students report that it is among the easiest to read novels in his classroom library. Hey, level 3 students LOVE easy to read novels. Follow this link to take a closer look at the novel on Craig´s website.

Just to be clear: book recommendations on my site are not compensated. These are books that I think will help language teachers, that is it.

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Bryan Kandel´s new novel, Los Sobrevivientes

A new independently published novel for level 3 and above
Last year I was offered an opportunity to test out a draft of Bryan Kandel´s new novel in my level 3 classes. I presented it to my students as a choice reading option for the end of the year. Among the students who chose to read Los Sobrevivientes, they were really into it! The novel is a gripping action story based on the true story of a plane full of Uruguayan rugby players which crashed in the Andes on its way to Santiago de Chile. Presumed dead, two men decide that they must hike their way out– without mountain climbing supplies, food, or even a clear idea of where exactly they were.

This book appeals to intermediate and advanced readers who are looking for a good action story full of courageous moments, tough decisions and ultimately an inspiring message. Great reading for heritage learners as well. Click here to check out the book trailer and additional teaching resources that Bryan has posted on his website.

To be clear: I never receive compensation for recommending books. That is obvious I hope, but I just wanted to throw that out there! -Mike Peto

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My Perfect Year live demo — Nov 4 — Zebulon, North Carolina with Mike Peto & Brett Chonko

Saturday, November 4th from 9am to 5pm. $25, reservation required.

Mike Peto
Brett Chonko
Step into our classroom for a day and we will demo our favorite no-fuss CI activities that make for a perfect year. Whether you are new to CI or an experienced practitioner, you are bound to find something new in this whirlwind “year packed into one day” extravaganza. For NC educators: we are hoping to offer 1 CEU for attendance… we will keep you posted!

Please bring your own brown bag lunch.

There are many AirBnB rentals available in the Raleigh area: join our Facebook group to connect with other educators who plan to attend.

8:30 – 9:00 Doors open, coffee and bagels available
9:00 – 9:20 No-stress daily rituals to start class & Easy CI activities to start the year
9:20 – 9:40 student interviews on day 1
9:40 – 10:00 Use of wall space
10:00 – 10:40 The beauty of One Word Images
10:40 – 10:50 short break
10:50 – 11:20 Write & Discuss: the underappreciated foundation of fast acquisition

Recycle those class-created texts into cartoons & easy readings for FVR

11:20 – 12:00 Moving from static images to narrative vignettes
12:30 – 1:00 My comprehensible approach to authentic music in the classroom
1:00 – 2:00 Light targeting with my personal library of stories
2:00 – 2:10 short break
2:10 – 2:40 Essential movie talk skills
2:40 – 3:20 Telenovelas for low and advanced classes
3:20 – 4:30 Book talks & other elements of a strong reading program

– Why independent reading is my preferred approach to reading in class
– How I read whole class novels without killing the experience

4:30 – 4:45 My no frills approach to assessment
4:45 – 5:00 A typical day, a typical week, a typical month
Schedule may vary due to needs of participants

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Join our project to improve classes for heritage learners!

In June of 2016 a group of CI teachers started a collaborative project. We believed that Spanish teachers are generally not well-trained to teach to the needs of heritage learners. We felt that much of the published material written by academics or textbook companies was not helping our students. Distressingly we have heard about departments who farm out their heritage learners’ classes to the newest, least prepared teachers because these classes tend to be hard to teach. Other departments urge heritage learners to simply abandon their home language in favor of a foreign one. Reaching heritage learners is the pressing but often ignored challenge facing our profession.

We decided to write essays, from the perspective of experienced classroom teachers, describing each facet of our classes. Our hope was to gather so much classroom wisdom in one book that our colleagues would confidently approach their courses with joy. Furthermore, we write as CI teachers who appreciate that the grammar and extensive spelling lessons from the textbooks that infuriate and frustrate our students are rarely appropriate. Too many heritage learners were learning the wrong lesson: that they could never master high-prestige dialects of Spanish, that their own experiences with the language were useless and that the cultural heritage of their ancestors was forever lost.

Our book, Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish: Essays by Classroom Teachers, was published in October 2016 and from the profits we have since donated over 100 reading books to the classroom libraries of teachers. We also have formed a Facebook group, Teachers of Spanish Heritage Speakers, with nearly 400 members.

It is now time to consider putting together a 2nd edition of our book. Working together, so many of us have moved forward and now have a lot more to say. If you are having success teaching a course for heritage learners of Spanish, please consider writing an essay for our next edition.

Currently we have a lengthy description of my reading program and an outline of how I have organized the rest of the class period. There are lots more that can be written about reading programs. If you incorporate reading conferences or have adapted a Lucy Calkins´s style reading workshop, a description of your approach would be great. I plan on writing a new essay about including manga in the classroom library. You could write about comparing typical writing samples before a reading program and several months later… hopefully you already have writing samples saved from the beginning of the year! Perhaps you want to describe a literacy initiative that extends beyond the classroom—bringing kids to the local library and tracking how many continue to use the library afterwards & what you can do to bring those numbers up or even tracking how many books are checked out of your classroom library and what you do to increase that number. There is so much to say about reading; write to me if you have an angle to explore.

I also wrote an essay about my struggle with counselors who would not cooperate in properly placing students. Essays from schools in which the placement system is not dysfunctional would be welcome, or modifications that you have made that work. Every school system is different; recording a diversity of approaches may help teachers problem solve in their own unique situation.

When I consider the main goals that I have developed for my heritage learners classes, I distinguish three objectives: to develop students’ identities as readers, to develop their interest in their heritage and the Spanish-speaking world and to broaden their language community to include many dialects and variations of Spanish. How do you create a compelling language experience for students who have been marginalized and taught that school is anything but compelling? Any of these topics could spawn multiple essays based on your classroom experiences.

I have often thought that the final essay of the collection, Beyond the Classroom by Barbara A. Davis, could inspire a larger examination of how school institutions and Anglo cultural practices can come together to present unnecessary obstacles for heritage speakers. I am sure some of us have observed how our school cultures can simultaneously absorb and repel heritage learners… perhaps ELA teachers may have a sharper focus on this topic.

We also have no essays about school-home interaction. Are there teachers who create community through activities organized through La Sociedad honoraria hispánica, for example? How does that impact enrollment?

There are so many other topics that touch upon the life of a heritage learner of Spanish. If you have a particular insight, please share.

We also welcome thoughtfully developed lesson plans which demonstrate a useful approach to classes for heritage learners.

I believe that the format of the essay lends itself better to deep introspection than the online forums that have emerged. Or rather, it is a question of tactics versus strategy; the online forums address problems as they arise while the essay encourages a more thoughtful approach. If you would like to join our group, please feel free to email your idea for an essay to mikepeto AT gmail DOT com with the phrase “Practical Advice” in the topic.


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New books for FRENCH & SPANISH teachers!

Scroll down to the bottom for a bargain

For French teachers: I am thrilled that a summer of collaboration with a trio of smart French teachers has finally given birth to the newest CI-friendly novel in French for our lower-level students. Superhamburgers is a novel that appeals to adolescents because it was written with one of my level 1 classes in 2013. The plot revolves around two students who are lab partners in an AP Chemistry class. Rodney had no idea that the consequences of his actions would reach so far. It started as a bad joke — never washing his hands at the restaurant where he worked after school so that he would have a quiet place to study for his AP classes. By the end of the next day, however, as he was being hunted by a ruthless drug lord, Rodney realized that it had all spiraled horribly out of control. If only he had washed his hands!

The Spanish edition has received rave reviews from teachers and students alike:

Embedded within the novel is a set of 23 illustrations. Followers of my blog have seen my growing obsession with comprehensible cartoons in the classroom. In the novel I have inserted 5 full page comics to help students visualize the developing plot of the novel. At the end of each chapter there is a 2 page word cloud designed as a crutch to help you and your students discuss the chapter in a structured, comprehensible manner. We also have a new Facebook group dedicated to sharing resources for teaching this novel. If you would like to read the first two chapters before committing, you can download them by clicking on this link.

For Spanish teachers: I have published a 2nd edition of Superburguesas with all of the new illustrations (in Spanish, of course) and even the word clouds. This is a gorgeous update and I think it really does help guide students comprehend the novel. Or rather, the illustrations often confirm that they are comprehending the novel.

For both Spanish and French teachers: The prequel to Superburgers, titled Normal hamburgers, is an entire graphic novel designed to be read in level 1, and enjoyed in levels 2, 3, and 4! The graphic novel is already well on its way and will be available this coming December.

The two new editions of Superhamburgers on Amazon, French and Spanish, are currently available for $6.49. I am no longer publishing the first edition, so any book offered at another price is a first edition used copy without the new illustrations and word clouds. However if you avoid Amazon altogether and order groups of five directly through this website you can get a 15% discount. Just click on the “Shop” link at the top of the page. This is a great option for anyone considering buying a full class set!

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Struggling to hold students accountable for reading?

Addressing the toxic culture of non-reading

I have a well-developed classroom library and I emphasize student-selected reading in my classes at all levels, from level 1 through to the heritage learner classes that I teach. I consider myself to be a “krashenista who lives in the real world“, that is, an educator who takes Krashen’s hypothesis’ seriously but also recognizes the role of the classroom teacher to massage those insights about second language acquisition so that they work in our reality. To be clear, Krashen isn’t a brainstem floating in another dimension; his ideas have already been extensively class-tested and you can follow this link to read a summary of the research-based suggestions for setting up a classroom reading program. What I am concerned with here, however, is what I think most teachers seeking to build an independent reading program are struggling with: how to transition students from a punitive compliance approach to reading that is common in many classrooms so that they embrace a pleasure-based approach advocated by Krashen in our classrooms?

A student who has learned to play the game in all of their other classes has been trained to approach reading as a task to undermine. Teachers respond by finding ways to ensure reading compliance such as quizzes, reading guides, writing assignments and random (humiliating) in-class comprehension questions. Our students are immersed in a punitive reading culture that rouses their counterwill; is it any wonder that they huddle before class discussing the reading with the one kid who actually did it, that they send text messages to students in other sections about “surprise quizzes”, that they copy answers to reading guides in the hallways during morning break and that they despise the astute teachers who manage to “play the game well”? Undermining the teacher’s attempts to enforce reading compliance is the game and, I think, one of the reasons adolescents report that they hate reading. The so-called good students may read due to an external motivator (grades, desire to impress an adult), but research on external motivators indicates that external motivators decrease internal motivation. That is to say, reading compliance assignments are unlikely to motivate compliant or non-compliant students to become lifelong readers.

By setting up a pleasure reading program, we krashenistas are attempting to step outside of this game, coaxing students to abandon what is truly a non-reading culture and nudging them to discover a home-run book… the kind of reading experience that is so satisfying that it opens a new world. How naive we must seem to those calculating students who have spent their lives perfecting the game! How silly we must seem! How easy to fool!

When I start my pleasure reading program, I very briefly describe in L1 why we are spending 5-10 minutes at the beginning of the class on independent reading (I often use the quotes from the back of my good reading book marks, a free download). I have several browsing strategies to get multiple books in their hands in the first few days before they commit to any book. Students are allowed to change books until they find one that “is not too bad”, they are always allowed to abandon a book, and they are never quizzed on their independent reading. I demand a silent room while we read, and then I sit with them and read. Afterwards we sometimes spend a brief moment talking about our books in L1 in small groups (this is both a documented way to add pleasure to the reading process as well as a browsing strategy) and I often do comprehensible L2 book talks describing a favorite scene from books in the classroom library (another browsing strategy).

Krashen states that studies have shown that very few students are merely staring into space with glazed eyes during reading period, yet for us classroom teachers it is a subject of heated discussion. Are they really reading? What can we do to make sure? That kid certainly is not reading. The handful who I know are not reading define the entire class in my mind, and it frustrates me. My heritage learners in particular, the ones who gain most from easy pleasure reading, seem to be among the best at faking it unless they think there is going to be real accountability. I need to perfect this bridge between our current reality of the game and that wonderful future when each student has discovered a home-run book. My role as a teacher is to connect students with a home-run book so that they become readers. My instincts and my training as a teacher, however, constantly intrude and push me towards reading compliance measures. I am aware of what is happening in my classroom… I am actually pretty good at the game. But winning the game is counter-productive; I need to short-circuit the logic of the game.

This is what I would like to propose here: (1) teaching a student to read is different from (2) leading a student to love reading. (1) Developing reading skills is different from (2) developing a love of reading. Educators must be very clear that (1) does not lead to (2). The first can be done through brute force such as assigning reading journals, essays, comprehension quizzes, “minimally intrusive” post-reading paragraphs, graphic organizers, rubrics designed to encourage students to reflect on either the reading or the act of reading, assigned discussions in pairs after reading or assigned book talks. The second, however, can only be accomplished through the path of pleasure. If a post-reading discussion is pleasurable, if writing a reaction to a book is pleasurable (for instance, doing so voluntarily on or reading about other students reactions to the reading is pleasurable, then the activity will contribute to the greater goal of developing love of reading. If it is not pleasurable, then it plays into the dynamic of the game.

How, then, can we successfully confront the toxic culture of non-reading which is expressed by the game? I have an idea, and this once again comes straight from a conference talk given by Krashen. At NTPRS 2015 Dr. K spoke about the process of becoming a reader and he observed that, before pleasure reading, almost all lifelong readers were read to. I am not talking about being forced to read aloud in class or having the teacher read a boring text aloud. I am talking about an essential kindergarten reading activity that is fun and should not have been dropped neither in middle school nor even in high school. That is to say, readers tend to have had parents or older siblings who read pleasure reading texts to them. Being read to is not the only step to transform a person into a reader (they will then need access to highly-compelling reading), but most readers report that they were once read to. I suspect that most of our students have not had enough experience being read to in pleasurable, read-aloud settings. Here is the key idea in this entire essay: I wonder what would happen if teachers rewired their brains so that, when we witness a non-compliant student during silent reading period, we reacted differently. Rather than reach for a reading compliance strategy, what if we were to think to ourselves, “I have got to do more read-alouds”? I am suggesting that not only would more pleasurable read-alouds move the student further down the road towards becoming a reader, but we would also short-circuit the logic of the game. In the short run I will sit next to that student, engage in a conversation about reading, try to find a better book for him, try to make a connection during a read-aloud, but what I will not do is allow my frustration to perpetuate the dynamic of the game. That is a win/win for all of my students, especially the ones that are actually finding good books and are beginning to think that maybe this class is different…

Jen Schongalla told me about one of her nephews who described the FVR program in his elementary school. He said to her:

All the free reading books were labeled with colored stickers according to the level. I would pick a book, open it at my desk and just sit and think. I’d look around to see what level everyone was on, pick books that were 1-2 levels higher and just sit there. I never read during free reading until I discovered Calvin and Hobbes. Then I was hooked and read the whole series. Around 5th grade they evaluated our reading level and I was told I was reading at a college level.

What strikes me about his recollection is what we can infer to be in the background: a patient teacher who was working hard to connect a non-compliant kid with his home run book.

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Graphic novels & Japanese manga translated into Spanish

At the end of this post is a list of books that I recommend as well as a list of books that I am still trying to figure out how to sell to my students and, lastly, the black list of books that I wish I had never bought.

Over the past two years I have been expanding the graphic novel and manga section of my classroom library. You might be surprised at how many of your “non-reading” students are otakus, secretly obsessed with Japanese anime and manga. A few copies of Naruto translated into Spanish may release a flood of nostalgia and, of course, positive memories of when reading was fun.

One big discovery I made this year was the series Orange (pictured above) by Ichigo Takano. Teach your kids that manga is read from right to left, starting from what western readers would consider to be the last page of the book. Therefore in the caption above the reader would first see the boy with tears in his eyes, then read “muchas gracias” followed by “Suwa, ¿estás llorando?”, finishing with “¡Claro que no! Es la alergia.”

A timid heritage learner of Spanish asked to keep my copy of the series Orange so that she could re-read it over the summer. That is what I call a reading home run! It tells the story of a girl who receives letters from herself written from the future, which instruct her to save one of her friends. “He will disappear if you do nothing“, warns one of the letters. In my classes this series has only gained traction among heritage learners, so if you do not have a heritage learner population you might want to hold back on buying this series.

I have written earlier about the wonderful graphic novel ¡Sonríe! by Raina Telgemeier as well as El perro enamorado de las estrellas by Takashi Murakami. Both can be read by intermediate students of Spanish with some “tolerance of noise”. That tolerance is an important point, usually students exhibit a tolerance for noise when they have a high interest in the reading material. These are not whole group novels, although I do occasionally read parts of these novels with the whole class as a browsing strategy. Some students will want to stay with TPRS novels that are closer to 100% comprehensible, but some will not perk up and enjoy reading until they come across something like a manga. Likewise I had a student, an avowed non-reader, who did nothing but fake read until he saw a copy of Art Speigelman´s Maus in the reserved book shelf behind my desk. I would have never guessed that an interest in the Holocaust would turn him onto reading in Spanish.

En la vida real is a graphic novel (ie not Japanese manga) that attracted a small, very specific following in my class. It tells the story of a young American girl who discovers self-confidence through a persona in an online multi-player game. Valued for her skill as a gamer, she disdains players who purchase the online items which she is proud to earn. Things get complicated when she and her online friends decide to attack the online personas of players who spend their game-time harvesting, only to discover that the “harvesters” are exploited children working in the 21st century version of third-world sweatshops.

Los dioses mienten is about a boy who discovers that one of his classmates is an orphan. In fact, nobody knows that her grandfather passed away soon after her father abandoned them, and she has been fending for herself ever since waiting for her father to return. I cannot remember if there were parts to white out; whenever I read a new manga I often have a black marker and a white-out pen to apply to any scene that shows underwear. I remember this manga as a sweet little tale of childhood innocence.

I am not going to pretend that the Oshinbo series does not address a specialized audience, but if you have an interest in Japanese cuisine then you should get it just for your own reading during FVR time! These books are considered “gastronomic manga”; they do have a plot (father and son gourmets who cannot stand each other due to their competing sense of aesthetics), but it is a thinly veiled excuse to be fascinated by the complexity of Japanese cuisine. Occasionally there is a show down between father and son, which does not necessarily mean that either gets into the kitchen and cooks. The competition is to see who has the best palate (sense of taste). It is absurd, entertaining and enlightening.

El Diario gatuno de Jinju Ito is one of the rare books by this author of horror manga that I can recommend for class use. Students who are familiar with the genre will recognize his style, but fortunately in this book the anxiety for which the author is known stays within bounds. It is something of a cute book about a man who hates cats. I have picture talked a page to help develop student interest in the book.

Adding manga and graphic novels to an FVR library is not the cure for all students, but if you take the time to properly develop interest in this new section it will help some of your students actually enjoy independent reading time. That is a big accomplishment because it is enjoyment of reading, not just reading, that makes students into life-long readers.

Books that I enthusiastically recommend:
Orange (books 1-5) – Ichigo Takano
¡Sonríe! – Raina Telgemeier
En la vida real – Cory Doctorow
María y yo – Miguel Gallardo
Coraline, novela gráfica – Neil Gaiman
Desaparecido (books 1-6) – Kei Sanbe
Los dioses mienten (preview?) – Kaori Ozaki
El diario gatuno de Junji Ito – Junji Ito
Oshinbo a la carte (books 1-7) – Tetsu Kariya & Akira Hanasaki Japanese cuisine with a plot
Persépolis integral – Marjane Satrapi (PREVIEW!!!)
Maus – Art Spiegelman (PREVIEW!!!)
Arrugas – Paco roca
Pyongyang – Guy Delisle
Naruto (many books… preview with white-out marker) – Masashi Kishimoto
Dragon Ball (many books… preview with white-out marker) – Akira Toriyama

Books I like that have yet to find an audience:
A Silent Voice – Yoshitoki Oima
Food Wars – Yuto Tsukuda (read with a white-out marker!)
Guía del mal padre – Guy Delisle
El Gourmet solitario – Jiro Taniguchi
Cruzando el bosque – Emily Carroll
El rastreador – Juro Taniguchi
Aventuras de la mano negra – Hans Jurgen Press
Hansel y Gretel – Donald Lemke
Jack y los frijoles mágicos – Blake Hoena
La Bella y la Bestia – Michael Dahl
Memorias de Idhun (graphic novels 1-12) – Laura Gallego García (several students enjoyed this series, but it is adapted from the novels in a confusing, disjointed manner).

Mistakes: books I have bought that never made it into my classroom library:
Los gritos del pasado (sexual violence)
Fantasmas – Raina Telgemeier (read this review)
Doble sentido – Niklas Asker (sexuality)
Futbolín (sexuality)
El guardián invisible – la novela gráfica – Dolores Redondo (sexual violence)
Traición, la torre oscura 3 – Stephen King (made it but rarely read due to tiny font)
Fútbol, la novela gráfica – Santiago García (sexuality)
Vagabond – Takehiko Inoue (sexual violence)
Voces en la oscuridad – Junji Ito (sexual violence)
Hotel – Boichi (sexuality)
Tomei O.C. – Junji Ito (sexual violence)
Mirai Nikki – Sakae Esuno (extreme violence)
Tungsteno – Marcello Quintanilha (sexuality)
Yo, asesino – Keke Altarriba (sexual violence)
V de Vendetta – Alan Moore (sexuality)

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How to add 15 new beginner level texts to your classroom library EVERY WEEK

“Recreational reading is the most powerful tool we have in language education”
-Stephen Krashen, presentation at CCFLT, February 2017

These are the readings we need most for our classes, the easy easy readings that low level readers can read independently. Almost impossible to find. This is how you do it:

Like the idea? Click here to download the template for the pamphlet cartoon stories.